Opinion | Sports

Opinion: Indian mascots a tradition that should be abandoned





Writer explores the history behind Indian mascots in sports:
Most Indian mascots date to the early 20th century, when white Americans worried that modern industrial life was eroding traditional masculine virtues: strength, stoicism and aggression. So college and professional sports teams named themselves after Native Americans, who seemed to embody precisely the qualities that white men had forsaken.

At the same time, though, the mascots also confirmed whites’ sense of superiority. With their headdresses and beads, their tomahawks and war whoops, the Indian mascots seemed like throwbacks.

Consider Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois mascot who made his first appearance at a 1926 football game with the University of Pennsylvania. A white guy in feathers, Chief Illiniwek performed an “Indian” dance and then shared a peace pipe with a drum major playing William Penn, the opponents’ mascot.

But Illiniwek was a warrior at heart. The second man to play him traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he bought new regalia for the chief from “an old Indian woman” who had allegedly helped mutilate George Custer after the battle of Little Bighorn.

Get the Story:
Jonathan Zimmerman: The ugly truth about our love of ‘Redskins’ (The Washington Post 8/31)