Identity, Ancestry, Symbols, and Sports

And while on the topic of identity, as well as on the topic of identity and symbols, I give you the following from the National Congress of American Indians for consideration (source):

Screen-Shot-2013-10-04-at-2.02.44-PM (1)

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Sports, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. C. Clavin says:


  2. James Pearce says:

    Saw that the other day and thought….huh, well, they have a point.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Well, “Jews” by itself is not derogatory. People of the Jewish faith are Jews. I’d go for something a bit more inflammatory.

  4. @DC Loser: I think the focus here is the logo. Indians, per se, is not offensive, either (although it is a term with a problematic origin, given Columbus’ geographic confusion).

  5. (Although “Chinamen” has problems-perhaps they should have gone with “Chinese”)

  6. mantis says:

    In 1992 my high school changed its mascot from Redskins–the mascot since 1939–after a few years of protest. A student vote opposed the change, as did many in the community, but the school district did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. In light of this and the fact that the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, and other teams resist any change, I have several thoughts.

    – First, we need representatives to run public institutions so they can sometimes make the hard decisions that the mob will never make. This is true from the Supreme Court and Congress down to the local school board.
    – Second, sports team names are not sacred. They aren’t even important. Teams change names all the time when they move (and sometimes don’t, leading to absurd names like the Utah Jazz). Anyone who thinks the offensive name slapped on the uniforms of a bunch of guys who run back and forth for a living is some august tradition that can never be altered is a complete moron, especially that jackass owner of the Redskins. They should change their names, not because they are forced to, but because it is the decent thing to do.
    – Third, why do so many people think this sort of thing is okay to depict Native Americans this way but not other ethnic groups? I know that’s the point the National Congress of American Indians is making above, and its quite baffling to me.

  7. Rob in CT says:

    I think they pulled their punches a bit on the team names, but that makes sense. One could certainly take the position that the Cleveland Indians aren’t a problem, but for their logo (others would disagree). Chief Wahoo is the main complaint.

  8. @Rob in CT: Exactly.

  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:
  10. @Jenos Idanian #13: Except that the leprechaun used by Notre Dame is a) a fictional character, and b) is not a symbol associated with denigrating the Irish. This is not Chief Wahoo.

  11. (I meant “mythical” not “fictional”–although it is, also, fictional).

  12. James Pearce says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Ah, but is that really a leprechaun?

    I can see Jenos’s point. But he’s just looking it from one angle: the ethnic mascot angle. The key difference between the Cleveland Indians and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is that the Irish aren’t offended by their portrayal.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    It’s been clear for a very long time that Jenos has a difficult time separating myth and fiction from the real world.
    Thankfully Obamacare will make it possible for him/her to seek professional help.

  14. @C. Clavin: The offense issue is key.

    In regards to the logo, the Notre Dame website, in more than one place, describes it as leprechaun. For example:

  15. Franklin says:

    Steven, I currently disagree pending further evidence. Regardless of what they say on the website today in the 21st century, it still says “Fightin’ Irish” right under the logo. I’m not diving into the history right now, but it’s actually meant as respectful of their ancestors, no?

  16. Rob in CT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    What’s your point? Let’s say that Notre Dame’s logo is in poor taste. I don’t know that Irish Americans really see it that way, but let’s say it is. If so, this makes Chief Wahoo ok how?

  17. James Pearce says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Those PC bastards.

    Another interesting thing about this little ad….it avoids the most obvious ethnic stereotype that would really push people’s buttons: a black character. A wise choice, I would say.

  18. @Franklin: The team is called the Fighting Irish, yes, although the name predates the logo in question.

    Here’s as specific a bit of evidence I can conjure, but granted it is on UND’s 21sr Century web site: The Leprechaun, which states “The Leprechaun was named the official mascot in 1965.” Now, maybe they are retconning here, but I see no evidence to suggest that is the case.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    Change it from the “Redskins” to the “Snyders” – sportswriters would love it for all the new possibilities.

    “Wahington can’t get off Snyder as Griifin throws 4 TD passes in 35-28 loss to Giants,” and so forth.

  20. rodney dill says:

    …just change the teams’ names to the expletive they’re most often referred to as, and kill two birds with one stone.

    (for the record I take no offense with the team that refers the closest to my ancestral heritage, the Minnesota Vikings, based on their name or logo*)

    *I have nothing kind to say in general about the Vikings, nor the Bears, nor the Lions.

  21. Rob in CT says:

    Nobody says “Vikings” and means it as an insult (was it *ever* used that way, even when they were kicking ass and taking names?). Nor is the logo patently insulting. IIRC, the area is home to many people of Scandanavian extraction. Whereas it’s not like the Redskins fanbase has a large % of Native Americans. It’s really not the same thing.

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Nobody says “Vikings” and means it as an insult (was it *ever* used that way, even when they were kicking ass and taking names?).

    I’m thinking that “Vikings” is preferable to “Whiteskins,” although “Whiteguys” is okay with me.

  23. Rafer Janders says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Except that the leprechaun used by Notre Dame is a) a fictional character, and b) is not a symbol associated with denigrating the Irish.

    And it’s also a symbol chosen by the Irish themselves. It’s one thing if a group consisting largely of Irish adopts an Irish leprechaun as a symbol, while it’s another if it’s a group consisting largely of non-Indian white people adopts an Indian as a symbol.

  24. michael reynolds says:


    Will you be doing more cross-dressing as Medusa?

  25. grumpy realist says:

    Considering that the whole “Redskins” imbroglio has come up over and over again, with multiple requests from Amerindians to drop it–yes, they should just dump it. So what if it’s “historical”? So were “minstrel shows” in blackface, but I don’t see any Hollywood producer screaming about his god-given right to put one of those on….

  26. J-Dub says:

    The best example I read recently said that unless Snyder would stand in front of a classroom full of Native American children and address them as cute little Redskins to their face, then he should change the name.

  27. stonetools says:

    To be honest, they should have used the terms ” New York K!kes and “San Francisco Slants” and added a future hypothetical sports team “Alabama Porch Monkeys” for good measure.
    Isn’t Synder Jewish? I have a feeling he would instantly see the problem if they floated the idea of a New York K!kes sports team, nicknamed the “Fighting Moneylenders” with “Chief Rabbi Shylock” as the mascot.

  28. PogueMahone says:

    Re: Notre Dame
    According to our most reliable history, Notre Dame adopted the nickname “Fighting Irish” after its third president, Fr. William Corby, had been the chaplain of the 69th “Irish” Brigade during the Civil War. The brigade was dubbed “The Fighting 69th” and was renown for its courage and resilience; the brigade suffered incredible casualties during the war.

    So its anything but derogatory.

    The logo, the “leprechaun”, is more of a caricature of the Irish that was common in 19th century England and America – an image that survives and is largely accepted within Irish-American communities.
    I used to be very active in all things Irish-American, and I don’t remember anyone who was annoyed by the caricature – to the contrary, we embraced it. Now “Paddy-Wagon” on the other hand…

    So there are key differences between Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish,” the Washington “Redskins,” and the Cleveland “Indians.”

    If the latter team’s nicknames had been founded by Native-Americans, and the logos were widely accepted by Native-Americans, it would be relevant. But they weren’t. And they aren’t. And so it isn’t.


  29. PD Shaw says:

    @Franklin: I wouldn’t be uncomfortable with the use of native american names/ mascots if they originated from native american institutions. While I suppose Notre Dame is more of a Catholic school, than an Irish school; the name came about because the people who went there when the name originated were primarily Irish descent. If the Washington Redskins got their name from a time when Native Americans dominated their organization, it would not seem so odd to me.

    I think the Indian mascots originate from the same time and place as blackface minstrel shows in the late 19th century. I don’t think it was intended be disrespectful, but it was dressing up to take on the idealized and stereotyped caricatures of non-whites.

  30. Visitor says:

    i really recommend y’all check out the Fightin’ Whites online store, maybe even buy a t-shirt! I’m sorry the DC team has stuck in the mud so long, bc the overall point’s been made over and over and over and over… but the new NCAI campaign is great. Thank you for highlighting it.

    -Balloon Juice reader

  31. Kari Q says:

    I do not understand why some people still find it so threatening to stop gratuitously insulting others. It’s not as if a more respectful logo would somehow make it impossible for Cleveland to have a baseball team.

  32. Just Me says:

    I think most mascots are intentionally caricatures-my high school mascot was a patriot and it was a caricature but nobody uses the term patriot as an insult.

    The issue with Native American names is that they are appropriated by a bunch of white people and coupled with the caricature for sports. I can see in some places where an Native American mascot makes sense (either in historical context or student body) but they usually still come with that caricature.

    I see no reason to hang on to these names if people are offended by them. The badgers and wildcats can’t complain so perhaps sticking to animals and similar is best.

  33. bill says:

    i thought san fran was known more for some “other” type of people? and ny’s populace isn’t primarily jewish….! should have tried the “fighting jews” , wow.
    all in all who really cares aside from some whiny people who lost the war but were allowed to live? more “false rage”, they must need some donations or something to deal with being drunken diabetics. don’t get me started on the casino thing…what a scam.

  34. @bill:

    all in all who really cares aside from some whiny people who lost the war but were allowed to live?

    Stay classy there, bill.