Indian team names actually offend Indians? Self-appointed Native
American activists say they do but a new poll by Sports
Illustrated tells a different story.
year, when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights moved to condemn
the use of Indian team names by colleges, universities, and K-12
schools, commissioner Abigail Thernstrom proposed a compromise.
Rather than urge the federal government to file civil-rights lawsuits,
as several fellow commissioners wanted to do, she suggested that
the panel merely encourage "schools, teams, and other organizations
voluntarily drop names that Native Americans themselves (as indicated
by polling data or clearly expressed local sentiment) find offensive."
It seemed like
a reasonable middle ground between the activists who see racism
everywhere they look and Redskins fans who refuse to acknowledge
that some team names are considered slurs by many of their fellow
Americans. Yet the commission voted down the Thernstrom proposal
and issued its blanket condemnation instead.
was Thernstrom's interest in "polling data" that turned
them off, because a new poll published in Sports Illustrated
suggests that Indian team names aren't nearly as offensive to as
many people as the activists have let on.
The Peter Harris
Research Group polled 352 Native Americans (217 living on reservations
and 134 living off) and 743 sports fans; the results are published
in SI's March 4 issue.
most important finding: "Asked if high school and college teams
should stop using Indian nicknames, 81 percent of Native American
respondents said no. As for pro sports, 83 percent of Native American
respondents said teams should not stop using Indian nicknames, mascots,
characters, and symbols."
The poll also
found that 75 percent of Native Americans don't think the use of
these team names and mascots "contributes to discrimination."
Opinion is divided about the tomahawk chop displayed at Atlanta
Braves games: 48 percent "don't care" about it; 51 percent
do care, but more than half of them "like it." The name
"Redskins" isn't especially controversial either; 69 percent
of Native Americans don't object to it. As a general rule, Indians
on reservations were more sensitive about team names and mascots,
but not to the point where a majority of them ever sided with the
activists on these questions.
writer S. L. Price reaches the obvious conclusion: "Although
Native American activists are virtually united in opposition to
the use of Indian nicknames and mascots, the Native American population
sees the issue far differently."