Question: where is it still safe to be a racist? Answer: at an American sporting event. Even the most conscientious citizens do the “Tomahawk chop” or cheer for the Washington Redskins, despite their caricatures of native tribes. In 2003, a Washington, D.C., district court overturned a ban on the Redskins’s logo, ruling that since the dictionary defines “redskin” as “often offensive” there are some situations, such as football, in which the word is not offensive.
Last summer, the NCAA (the governing body of American college sports) banned 18 universities from using Native American nicknames and mascots in tournament competition. Three of the schools appealed the decision, arguing the nicknames had the support of local tribes, and the NCAA consented.
Sports team names and mascots may seem a superficial issue compared with deeper issues facing native tribes, such as poverty and tribal sovereignty, but few can deny the double standard that exists when symbols of native tribes are used as props for highprofile mass entertainment and no other ethnicity or religion is subjected to the same treatment.