The more things change the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.
It was back in 2020 when the American Indian College Fund joined forces with Native advocacy groups and allies nationwide to demand that sports teams from grade schools to universities stop using harmful racist team names and mascots. And thanks to public pressure, many college and professional teams did just that.
Including the Washington NFL team, which is today called by its new name, the Commanders.
But just last week it was reported widely in the media that some longtime members of the Washington Commanders leadership were again using the team’s offensive, old name amongst themselves in meetings. The Commanders’ head coach, Ron Rivera, went on record and said, “Just so everybody knows, we do that with the utmost respect for the Native tribes and for the American Indian. Anytime that’s brought up, it is brought up with the utmost of respect.”
At the American Indian College Fund, we believe there is no way to use a racist term that demeans and dehumanizes Native people in a respectful manner. Academic research shows that American Indian students who are exposed to mascots or other common American Indian images report a depressed sense of self-esteem, community worth, and fewer achievement-related options for themselves. Mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and work to constrain their self-images.
It’s not enough to remove mascots publicly. We demand mascots be eliminated permanently on all fronts because mascots, words, and behaviors work to perpetuate old and harmful stereotypes about Indigenous people. We should instead celebrate and respect the vibrant role of Indigenous people in both America’s history and in modern times.
We must continue to raise our voices, sending the powerful message to sports teams, school boards, and national leaders that we value all histories, cultures, and perspectives. By holding organizations and individuals accountable we can help foster confidence, growth, and success in Indigenous students from kindergarten to college graduation and build a better future for all. #ChangeTheName. #NotYourMascot.
Cheryl Crazy Bull President and CEO, American Indian College Fund