The Washington NFL team announced that they would retire the "Redskins" logo and change their name. Activists have long pressured the team to rebrand, since the word is widely considered a slur against Native Americans.
Many people, including sports commentator Dick Vitale, celebrated the change. But just a day before the old name was retired, the phrase "Hail to the Redskins" was trending on Twitter, as some fans expressed nostalgia for the old name.
This NFL franchise is far from the only team with a problematic mascot. You can find caricatures of ethnic groups — often Native American nations — slurs, or glorified references to the Confederacy on sports merchandise, even today.
Here are some of the other teams that have had controversial mascots through the years.
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Some of the potential replacement names for Washington include the Warriors and the Redwolves.
On June 2, 2020, the team posted a black square on their official team Instagram page, signaling solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many responses included a plea for a team name change. But it wasn't a social media campaign that spurred the Redskins' owner to ditch the name...
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A call from FedEx
The team's owner, Dan Snyder, had pledged to "never" change the name. But FedEx, the title sponsor for the Washington football stadium, took a step that got things moving. "We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name," FedEx said in a statement.
FedEx has owned the naming rights to the stadium since 1999.
The Indians have already shown a willingness to make adjustments.
In 2018, owner Paul Dolan announced that the Chief Wahoo cartoon would no longer appear on team uniforms or in the stadium.
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The Atlanta Braves have also taken heat for Native American stereotyping. But on July 12, 2020, the team sent an email to season-ticket holders saying they would not abandon the team's name.
The email did say that team leadership would reconsider the controversial "tomahawk chop" chant. "The Atlanta Braves honors, respects and values the Native American community," the team wrote.
In 2012, the team received criticism when it briefly reintroduced a previously retired "screaming savage" logo. The logo was scrapped again during the same season.
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From 1964 to 1986, the Braves had a mascot named Chief Noc-A-Homa — a play on the baseball slang "knock a homer." The longest-running Noc-A-Homa was Levi Walker, a Native American and member of the Odawa tribe. Walker played the character from 1969 until 1986, when the team scrapped the mascot.
Here, Walker stands in left field, where the Noc-A-Homa teepee once stood.
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Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2020 (if you can believe it, we had a Super Bowl this year). And, being front-of-mind as the reigning champs, the team has seen an uptick in talk about appropriation of Native American culture.
When the Washington franchise announced they would retire their name, the media and fans naturally wanted to know: Would the Chiefs follow suit?
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A name change is not imminent
Team president Mark Donovan told the Kansas City Star that the team is not considering a name change. "We feel like it's very different than in the Washington situation," Donovan said.
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A borrowed culture
But even beyond the team's name, the Kansas City franchise borrows heavily from indigenous culture.
The team plays in in Arrowhead Stadium (not sponsored by Arrowhead water). Fans regularly wear Native American feather headdresses and do the "tomahawk chop." The team refers to the Kansas City area as "Chiefs Kingdom."
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To chop or not to chop?
According to Chiefs president Mark Donovan, the tomahawk chop is the element that fans are most vocal about.
"With the chop, we've heard much more... support of keeping it," Donovan said. "We've also heard it's something that some can view as offensive. So that's something we've got to look at."
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As of today, there's no sign that the Chicago Blackhawks are considering a name change. The team has long insisted that their name honors a historic person: Black Hawk of Illinois' Sac & Fox Nation.
In the past, the team has partnered with the American Indian Center of Chicago to educate fans about the history. But the group cut ties with the team in 2019, citing the negative impact of using Native American stereotypes in sports branding.
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The name will stay, for now
The Blackhawks released a statement on July 7, 2020, vowing that they would "serve as stewards of our name and identity, and will do so with a commitment to evolve."
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Headdresses and hockey
In 2010, Blackhawks management partnered with Indigenous groups to create a cultural education campaign. They wanted to discourage fans from dressing as Native American stereotypes at games. But you can still find some fans in headdresses at the United Center.
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Winnipeg bans headdresses
In 2015, the Winnipeg Jets banned faux-Native American headdresses (similar to this one) from their stadium. The ban came after a Jets season ticket holder complained to the Winnipeg team over a Blackhawks fan's headdress at a game.
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Ole Miss Rebels
The University of Mississippi's athletic teams are known as the Rebels. The school has done some work to minimize Confederate glorification in the past two decades, starting with Colonel Reb.
While students and athletes at Ole Miss are still known as the Rebels, the university retired its long-time mascot, Colonel Reb, in 2003.
Colonel Reb was a white-goateed, cane-carrying man in a big hat.
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A New Look Ole Miss
Reb was succeeded by the Rebel Black Bear, a reference to a short story by Ole Miss alumnus William Faulkner. The bear was retired in the fall of 2017 and replaced with Tony the Landshark.
The University has discouraged the use of "Dixie" as an unofficial fight song and renamed Confederate Drive on campus.
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St. John's University
St. Johns might be the Red Storm today, but from the 1930s until 1994, the St. Johns "Redmen" had a cartoonish mascot named Chief Blackjack. According to school legend, some students stole the costume from the front of a local cigar store.
During the mascot's first appearance, the football team pulled off a stunning upset, so, they decided, the stolen chief had to stay. The students returned to the cigar store, confessed their crimes and paid to keep him around.
In the '90s, the university scrapped the Native American pejorative they had been using for six decades and changed their nickname to the Red Storm.
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Today, the St. John's Red Storm is represented by this mascot, named Johnny Thunderbird. The thunderbird is mythological figure in Indigenous culture, believed to be a powerful supernatural spirit.
Students and faculty have protested the mascot name in the past, explaining that the nickname glorifies colonialism and ignores the negative impact that the arrival of British colonists in North America had on communities of color.
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Long before jovial citrus Otto the Orange rolled into Syrcause games, the school's athletic teams went by "the Orangemen."
Back then, the team's mascot was a Native American caricature named "Big Chief Bill Orange" or, more formally, "the Saltine Warrior." In 1978, the Native American student organization held a protest against the use of the character, usually portrayed by a brother from the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, and school officials agreed.
The mascot was scrapped in February 1978, and a contest was launched to replace him.
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Florida State Seminoles
In July 2020, Florida State University and the Seminole Tribe of Florida said their long-standing partnership will continue, despite renewed questions about the mascot's cultural sensitivity.
The tribe has consulted on their name and imagery since the late 1970s. In 2005, tribal leaders issued a rare written resolution affirming their enthusiastic support of the university's use of their name.
FSU also has a scholarship program that pays 80% of tuition for admitted students who live on the Seminole reservation.
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Some, however, are still offended by the sight of "Chief Osceola," a student in a headdress and war paint riding a spotted horse and carrying a spear.
David Narcomey, the general counsel for the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, said he finds the portrayal offensive. He wrote in an email to USA Today, "I am nauseated that the NCAA is allowing this 'minstrel show' to carry on this form of racism in the 21st century."
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FSU maintains they don't have a mascot, but "we have the honor of calling ourselves 'Seminoles' in admiration of the only Native American tribe never conquered by the U.S. Government."
Before the Seminole tribe started consulting on the mascot, a cartoonish character called "Sammy Seminole" would lead the football team out of the tunnel before games performing acrobatic feats in less-than-authentic garb.
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Chief Illiniwek
Until 2007, The Fighting Illini mascot was Chief Illiniwek — a student in Sioux-style buckskin and headdress. The Chief character would lead the students and fans in "war chants" and songs that mimic those used in Native American religious rituals.
The mascot was retired after the NCAA determined the mascot was "hostile or abusive" and threatened the Illini teams with a postseason ban should they continue to use the mascot.
The school is still working on a replacement for the character.
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In June 2020, the University of Florida announced that it would no longer sanction the "Gator bait" cheer because of the phrase's racist origins.
The term "gator bait" originated in the swamps of Louisiana and Florida as a reference to using Black babies to lure alligators from the water.
There is no indication that the Gator itself is a reference to racism.
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The cheer's origin
The cheer was popularized by safety Lawrence Wright at a 1996 pep rally. Wright, who is Black, disagrees with the change, telling the Gainesville Sun, "It's a college football thing. It's not a racist thing."
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San Diego State Aztecs
In 2018, San Diego State announced immediate changes to the behavior of their Aztec Warrior mascot, "to achieve a respectful portrayal."
The Aztec Warrior would no longer be a traditional mascot, but would remain a part of the school's branding as a "spirit leader." The costume has been updated to be more historically accurate. And the warrior no longer does pushups in the endzone after touchdowns, or dances with cheerleaders.
The school has also renamed a dorm "Huāxyacac," the Nahuatl name for Oaxaca, Mexico, where the Aztec civilization lived prior to colonial contact.
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University of Massachusetts
The teams at UMass Amherst have seen a few changes through the years. The original nickname was the Statesmen, but in 1948, the school swapped the name out for the Redmen.
According to a campus referendum from that time, the Redmen name was chosen because "the Indians showed strength and fierceness in defending his lands… a strength and fierceness well suited to a football team defending its goal posts."
After years of controversy, in 1972, the student government and board of trustees decided to replace it. Eventually, they settled on the Minutemen. The women's teams go by "Minutewomen."
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University of North Dakota
Unlike Florida State, the University of North Dakota couldn't secure approval from namesake tribes to maintain its "Fighting Sioux" nickname. In 2012, the Sioux moniker was retired.
Three years later, the university changed its teams to the Fighting Hawks.
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In Canada, the Edmonton Eskimos faced waves of criticism for their team name. Critics pointed out that the term "eskimo" is widely seen as a colonialist relic. Indigenous people in northern Canada prefer to be described as Inuit or Yupik, depending on their origins and language.
The Edmonton team has two mascots — an anthropomorphized football named Punter and a polar bear named Nanook. Nanook is the Inuit word for polar bear.
Critics of this defunct Canadian baseball franchise said that the name and logo glorified the 19th-century serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, as well as violence against women. Jack the Ripper killed and mutilated at least five women in London beginning in 1888.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh famously defended the name in 2011, adding that he believes people are too easily offended.
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Rhode Island School of Design Nads
The Rhode Island School of Design's sports teams are known as the Nads. Yes, those "nads." The reference to testicles goes on. A mascot named "Scrotie" skates around the ice at RISD's hockey games.
Scrotie is so anatomically correct — despite being six-feet tall — we can't even show you a picture. But RISD has all the photos and vulgar puns you'd ever need on their website.
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The sports teams at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, used "Indians" as their nickname from 1916 until the late '70s.
In the late 1970s, the school phased out the "Indians" brand in favor of "the Tribe." Around that time, William & Mary also introduced this logo with the W, M and pair of feathers. The teams still use the "Tribe" nickname today.
The school retired the feather logo when the NCAA ruled it offensive in 2006. In 2010, students chose a griffin as the school's new mascot.
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Hurtful words in high school
In 2016, the Hillsboro High School Indians football team was greeted by a banner from a rival high school reading "Hey Indians, Get Ready for A Trail of Tears Part 2."
The Little People of America, a group representing people born with dwarfism, petitioned this southern Illinois high school to change their mascot name in 2015, but the school declined.
"Once a Midget, always a Midget," Board Secretary Kim Towers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Our community is happy to be Midgets, and that's where it's at."
You might be wondering how the team ended up with such an unusual mascot. According to local lore, nearly a century ago, a sports reporter described the team as "midgets" when they won a women's basketball game in a massive upset.
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Coachella Valley Arabs
The sports teams at California's Coachella Valley High School are known as "the Arabs." Until 2014, the mascot was a snarling, hook-nosed caricature of an Arab man wearing a shemagh scarf and an agal rope.
The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee raised the issue with the stereotypes in 2013. The school retired the mascot as well as a belly-dancing genie character that often appeared at games.
The "Arabs" nickname remains, however. School officials insist that the moniker is respectful, chosen because of the region's many date farms.
At Centralia High School in Illinois, the boys' sports teams are known as "Orphans," and the girls' teams as "Annies."
The "Orphans" name reportedly dates back to the 1940s, when a Chicago sportswriter likened the basketball team's uniforms to the tattered clothing of orphaned children.