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“Utaherd” and Feathered…The Use of Native-related Names in Sports

“Utaherd” and Feathered…The Use of Native-related Names in Sports
February 09
14:28 2020

Utaherd and Feathered

By John Christian Hopkins

It all started with Utah’s Iron County and its steely reserve.

A Cedar City high school voted 3-2 to drop the local team name “Redmen,” and to replace the Indian head symbol used by the school.

That’s when Shipp hit the fan.

Utah State Rep. Rex Shipp introduced HJR 10, legislation approving the use of Native American likenesses, names and symbols for school and place names.

One might consider this to be somewhat ironic. Utah is a state heavily populated by Mormons and that its leaders were outraged by the mischaracterizations in the Broadway play “Book of Mormon.”

Apparently gross stereotypes are okay when the moccasin is on the other foot.

Shipp’s bill marginalizes indigenous people, said James Courage Singer, co-founder of Utah League Native American Voters.

But Shipp’s bill points to a Washington Post story that claimed that 90-percent of Native Americans did not object to the native mascots, images and team names.

But there have long been complaints and protests over the use of native imagery by sports teams. Many of these have involved professional teams such as the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and football’s Washington Redskins.

Most recently the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs were the subjects of protests.

The professional sports team using Indian names began with the 1912 Boston Braves. At the time the Braves’ owner belonged to Tammany Hall, a corrupt political organization. Tammany’s name derived from the Delaware chief, Tamanend.

After future Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie left the Cleveland Naps the team searched for a new name. They settled on Indians for the 1915 season.

When protests boomed in the 1980s, Cleveland team officials explained that the name was chosen to honor a Native American player Louis Sockalexis, who played briefly to the Cleveland Spiders. Critics pointed out how odd that seemed as Sockalexis was never a star player and had retired nearly 20 years earlier. They also noted that newspaper stories back in 1915 made no mention of Sockalexis as the reason for the change. The stories, however, did make derogatory remarks about Native Americans.

The Redskins took their name in 1932. The team claimed the name honored its head coach, who claimed native ancestry. The flaw in that argument is that the coach didn’t join the team until a year after the name change.

Many proponents of using native imagery argue that it is meant to honor tribes and their culture.

If that is so, Singer wonders, why didn’t Shipp talk to any of the local tribes before introducing HJR 10?

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