Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Well, I Guess I Have to Boycott Some NFL Games This Year…

                I am a new member of the Mennonite Church USA, and my church graciously paid for me to go to the denominational convention in Phoenix this past year so that I could get an idea of what the Mennonites were all about. What a wonderful experience! One of the speakers was a woman by the name of Cheryl Bear who spoke about Christianity, the pursuit of justice, and her Native American experience. In her address, she called my attention to the tremendous discrimination that Native Americans have faced and continue to face in our country. Unfortunately, unlike the racism experienced by other groups, this racism has gotten very little national attention and thus has gone by unchecked. For example, did you know that Native Americans were not granted the right to vote until 1924, and that some states continued to prohibit them from voting until 1948? That’s later than both African-American suffrage and women’s suffrage! Or did you know that Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to Euro-American schools, whose explicit purpose was to break the Native Americans away from their “barbarous” culture into “civilized” Euro-American values? [2] Did you know that the last of these schools didn’t close until the 1990’s?

                This is disturbing historical
information, but I didn't really think about the continued racism that Native Americans face or my involvement in it until I arrived back in Indianapolis. Within a week of coming back, someone invited me to go a minor league game, to watch our local team, “the Indianapolis Indians,” compete. All of a sudden, I realized how much I have been a part of the racist system that discriminates against Native Americans. I watch sports teams all the time with names like, “Washington Redskins” and “Kansas City Chiefs,” and I have never raised any serious complaints against these titles or showed any resistance to them. Thus, my actions give the message: “This is no big deal. Making caricatures and using racial offensive identifiers for this group of people is ok.” Well, I can’t do that anymore. I am hereby boycotting any games or products associated with any team that uses a Native American caricature as their mascot. I would invite you to join me, and also to sign the petition below that tell an owner of one of those teams that racial team names are not ok with us. [3]
                Now, I imagine that some of you are thinking, “Woah, woah, woah. You’re making way too big of a deal about this. It’s just a harmless sports name. And why is it even offensive? After all, it emphasizes the bravery and/or fierceness of these groups.” The short answer is this: It doesn’t matter why it is offensive. I have some guesses as to why, but my guesses are irrelevant. The important point is that Native Americans have been making formal protests against this at least since 1992, and since it bothers them, we must stop. [4] What’s incredible is that sports owners have rejected this request by arguing to Native Americans that those titles aren’t offensive. Let me give you an analogy: Imagine if someone took a picture of you without your permission and then proceeded to blow it up and hang it in a public place. Now imagine that you saw it, hated the way it looked, and asked the person to take it down. Then the person replies, “Well, I disagree with you. It’s not a bad picture. So I’m going to keep it up there.” What the heck!?! Can you imagine how frustrating that would be? It’s a picture of you. If you don’t like it, then they shouldn’t be able to display it. Period. In the same way, names like “Chiefs” and “Indians” are portraits of certain people groups, and if it’s offensive to them, then we have no right to display them, especially for something as insignificant as our entertainment.

               Here’s the thing: This would be such an easy thing to change. It wouldn’t take any major legal work or redistribution of resources. All it requires is a simple name change. But the owners of the teams with these names won’t do it unless they realize they’re losing money from it, which means we need to stop supporting these teams. Also, I am starting the habit of replacing any Indian team name with the word “Racist” whenever I refer to one of these teams, to call attention to the offensive nature of this language. For example, “Alfred Morris, of the Washington Racists, was one of my best pick-ups last year in fantasy football.” So please join me in resisting this social evil.


[1] For more on Cheryl Bear, you can visit her website at

[2] For a general introduction, see If you ever find yourself in Phoenix, AZ, the Heard Museum has a great section that introduces you to this experience.

[3] The only online petition I have been able to find is the petition against the “Washington Redskins,” whose name is certainly the most offensive of any professional sports team, as “redskin” is a racial slur. Even if you disagree with me about other team names, I would encourage you to sign this petition: If any of you know of other petitions or would like to start them, please include links in the comments section.

[4] The most easily accessible information is about the “Washington Redskins.” The following articles offer a helpful introduction to the controversy and manipulation surrounding that issue.,  I know that other battles have been fought as well, including a protest by Native Americans at an “Indianapolis Indians” game. Unfortunately, it’s taking me more than a few minutes to track that information down. However, if anyone really wants more information or feels compelled to challenge me on my contention that Native Americans find terms like “Chiefs” and “Indians” offensive, let me know, and I’ll do the work another day.

1 comment:

Mary Albrecht said...

Wow, Brian! You continue to give me more to think about which gives me growing edges! God bless!