This past Saturday, the Yale football team defeated Dartmouth, 21–13, for its first win of the season. Head coach Tony Reno breathed a sigh of relief, and a cohort of freshmen finally got the chance to experience its first free Saturday at Toads.
However, what most students heard of the day — and by most students, I mean those who check their email more often than the score of the Yale football game — was an apology from Yale Athletics about the use of “historic artwork that is racially insensitive and promotes old social stereotypes” in the game’s program cover. Uh-oh.
In 1974, Dartmouth changed its mascot from the “Indian” to “The Big Green.” Of course, neither name really makes sense, but it is better to appropriate a color than a racist term for a people who were strategically barred from universities like Yale and Dartmouth for centuries.
There is nothing OK about the promotional covers. They don’t belong in a pamphlet that commemorates the schools’ 100-year rivalry. They belong in a museum or in my roommate’s American Studies thesis. And if I were to walk through an exhibit displaying these programs, I should react as though they are part of a sports past that has long since been replaced by a more respectful sports present.
Unfortunately, this is just not the case.
Even as many schools across the country have ditched their racist mascots, professional sports teams continue to use names and images that caricature Native Americans. Here are a few, in increasing order of egregiousness: the Chicago Blackhawks; the Kansas City Chiefs; the Atlanta Braves; the Cleveland Indians; and yes, the granddaddy of them all, the Washington Redskins. And the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, Chief Wahoo, looks like a Snapchat filter gone wrong. His bright red face, cheek-to-cheek smile and massive, aquiline nose portray Native Americans as a stereotype rather than paying them respect.
While this argument may seem obvious to Yalies, especially when name-changing has dominated campus discourse for the last two years, it stays on the back burner in professional sports. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, has stated that he will “NEVER — you can use caps” change the name of his team. He cites the fact that 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the team’s name in a 2016 Washington Post opinion poll.
But if the Redskins do not change their name, no other team will — how can you disparage the Chicago Blackhawks while the Washington Redskins still exist?
Last year, Yale made a decision to change the position title of “Master” to “Head of College” because of the word’s historical association with slavery. ‘Master’ means something different in the United States than it does across the pond, and for that reason it should be remembered as a part of our dark history rather than used in the present.
Just like Redskins. And Indians, and Braves, and Chiefs, and yes, even Blackhawks. One could make the argument that these names pay homage to a warrior culture of which many Indigenous peoples are proud. But all you have to do is look at Chief Wahoo, go to a Braves game and participate in the “Tomahawk Chop,” or read the history of Black Hawk, who was marched around the country as part of a minstrel show, to realize that it is time for change.
Unfortunately, much of the professional sports world thinks differently. While response to outrage on social media prompted Yale Athletics to apologize for its use of the Dartmouth programs, protest against the Redskins’ name and logo has never grown beyond a fringe movement. The Yale-Dartmouth program covers can be preserved because they are part of a history we wish we could forget but need to remember. The Redskins, on the other hand, are part of the present.
This is 2016: yesterday the United States recognized a holiday to celebrate Christopher Columbus, a man whose actions as Hispaniola’s colonial governor wiped out 250,000 indigenous Taino in just over 50 years.
This is 2016, and we still have a football team called the Redskins.
Money talks. It is time for a star player to take a stand and refuse to don a jersey marked with a racist name and an equally racist logo. If that doesn’t happen, the Redskins will be the Redskins forever. In that case, I strongly advocate for the team changing its mascot to a hot potato. Only then is the term “redskin” OK.
Noah Asimow is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .