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American Indian Sports Teams Mascots, Tokens, Nicknames, Logos and Associated Symbols

- Psychological Considerations -  

 

       1. Just as anthropologists often agree that some sports may have their origins in religious rituals, perhaps imitating battle, the fierce competitiveness inherent in many sports has frequently resulted in analogies being draw between such activities and warfare.  Thus we find that characteristics like aggression, brute physical strength, deception, and relentlessness, which are highly valued in combat, are also desirable traits for athletes competing in the socialized, ritual warfare of the sports arena.
          By coupling American Indian people to such traits via the use of symbolically related sports team mascots, logos, nicknames, et cetera, negative stereotypes and historical inaccuracies are subtly encouraged and perpetuated. One example of this can be seen in the widely used "warrior" sports team nickname which is commonly tied to First Nations by the use of stereotypic icons. This insidious association is particularly troublesome with regards to schools which, by virtue of their perceived authority, have the ability to strongly influence students in their development of lifelong attitudes and constructs.
 
         2.   The misconceived, simplistic, and self-serving notion of American Indian people being universally inclined toward particularly war-like and violent behavior historically allowed for the justification of heinous acts committed against Native Peoples in the name of  "Manifest Destiny's" "civilizing" the so-called "primitives."   By continuing to portray First Nations in this manner via association to the intrinsic aggression and violence found in many sporting activities, this same rationalization is erroneously perpetuated to this day and carries with it serious negative consequences for contemporary Native Peoples.
             While it cannot be definitively said that the prolific uses in question are a major factor in the phenomena, according to the United States Department of Justice, American Indian people were found to be more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime than any other group of Americans.  Even more tragic is that American Indian children and young adults are also more than twice as likely to commit suicide than their non-Native social peers or other ethnic groups.
 
       3.  Attitudes toward the use of "Indian" related mascots are inculcated at an early age when the individual is highly susceptible to influence and social pressure.  This attribute was successfully exploited by World War II Nazi propaganda which paid particular attention to conditioning youth to adopt anti-Jewish beliefs.
           Similarly, it is also interesting to note that several elements that were typically present at Nazi spectacle events including cheering crowds, martial music, marching, and lights (such as are used in night games) are also regular parts of  high school, college, and professional football.   For many Americans, the fanaticism of high school and other football game venues along with everything that's associated with them rightly defines those events as true spectacles where emotions are aroused and the senses heightened.  Being in such a psychological state helps to facilitate the deep emotional rooting and resultant proprietary, almost cult-like obsessive attachment that diehard fans often exhibit toward "their" American Indian sports team icon.  
 
       4. Stereotypic, cartoon-like imagery tends to dehumanize the subject. This mechanism is well-known and is often used during times of war to dehumanize an enemy. The effect allows the portrayer to more easily trivialize the concerns of the one being portrayed and simultaneously helps protect self-esteem by relieving guilt feelings arising from hostile attitudes and acts directed against the subject.
            Dehumanization, as the word implies, is a psychological process that reduces a person or group to a sub-human level.  One way in which this process is achieved is by suggesting the subject of the dehumanization is like an animal.   Because animals of various types and "Indian" related mascots are those most frequently used, it can be observed that this practice places Native Peoples on a par with wild beasts of prey.

       5. Through stereotyping and dehumanization objectification is facilitated.  Instead of being thought of as unique individuals each of whom is capable of a wide range of human behaviors and potentialities, Native Peoples are transformed into depersonalized "things" having very limited scope or true personal identity. At work here are the same principles found in pornography which also turns real, living people into objects of a different sort.
 
       6.  Social psychologists tell us that an attitude is composed of three parts: cognitive; affective (emotional); and behavioral.  Because of the strong and deeply rooted emotional component involved in the uses in question, beliefs held about such practices are highly resistant to change through the application of rational arguments or pure reason.

      7.  The use of such mascots and nicknames are a form of tokenism which consequently engenders rationalization of more serious acts or negative attitudes directed toward Native Peoples.

       8.  The concept of mascots and nicknames "honoring Indians" may in reality be an ego defense mechanism that helps preserve the self-esteem of the individual doing the alleged "honoring."  This process insulates the individual from acknowledging the genocidal horrors historically inflicted on First Nations peoples or their continuing related injustices and allows him or her to "feel good" about themselves as they continue to stereotype and exploit American Indian people for their own self-serving, even if subconscious, purposes.  

        9.  The generic quality of the spurious misnomer, "Indians," denies Indigenous Peoples the sense of pride and place derived from an understanding and recognition of one's unique cultural heritage. By failing to illustrate the great diversity found among Native American cultures, generic mascots facilitate stereotypical categorization and perpetuate false concepts that arose with the first contact between European explorers and their Indigenous contemporaries.  Stereotypic "Indian" mascots increase the self-esteem of non-Native children while at the same time impose limiting self-concepts on American Indian youngsters.   These limitations negatively affect the school performances of American Indian pupils and thus may stifle their ability to achieve the same potentials as their non-Native peers.   Empirical studies have confirmed this effect.   

      10.   "Indian" mascots "freeze" Indigenous Peoples in a romanticized historical period that ended well over a century ago and which in reality never existed.  By continuing to portray American Indian peoples in such a manner the reality of how First Nations peoples are today - living, struggling, and adapting like everyone else in the modern world - is denied, ignored, and set askew.

        11.   Because of the pervasiveness and longevity involved in the use of American Indian related sports team tokens, such uses have become institutionalized.  Once having been  institutionalized, it becomes very difficult to recognize the harmful discriminatory practices for what they really are.

 

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