Wisc. Law Fouls Out American Indian Team Names

By Michelle Chen Jun 24, 2010

Look around an average college campus today and you might notice that Native Americans are surprisingly well represented. Sure, people of native descent make up just a tiny part of the college and university student population. But there are plenty of American Indian faces adorning jerseys, helmets, and other sports paraphernalia, with "noble" names like "the chiefs" and "the braves." After [decades of campaigns by native communities](http://www.indianmascots.com/position_statement/position_statement.htm), a [new law in Wisconsin](http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127987743) aims to force schools to finally scrub brown-skinned warriors off the astroturf and scrap the feather-clad mascot costumes. [The law, SB25,](http://www.wrn.com/2010/05/doyle-signs-indian-mascot-bill/) raises the stakes in the game of racial politics in school sports. Wisconsin, which has a relatively progressive policy on integrating native culture into its education system, bans race-based team names at public schools. The law would essentially bar school districts from using Indian mascots and other imagery in team names and marketing products, and violators would be fined $1,000 for each day that they continue peddling stereotypes of native peoples. The measure is a milestone in a [long battle over Indian mascots](http://aistm.org/1indexpage.htm) in collegiate and professional sports. On one pole of the debate are activists who say the caricaturing of native groups perpetuates a painful legacy of dehumanizing indigenous people and exploiting their culture and images. On the other side are sports fans and others who see the backlash as political correctness on steroids, a humorless crackdown on any racial or cultural reference even when it’s all part of the spirit of sportsmanship. In 2005, the NCAA stirred controversy when it moved to [bar American Indian iconography](http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=2125735) in post-season collegiate games (it stopped short of regulating individual schools’ mascot and name choices beyond the post-season). [John Ridley responded](http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4797365&ps=rs) in an NPR commentary to some of the anti-PC backlash, reflecting on the "right" to preserve America’s proud heritage of ethnic mockery:

Look, as a black guy, I know I wish I could hang out outside Lambeau Field and have the Packers rub my head for good luck before every game but the PC crowd has told me that’s offensive, so now I’ve just gotta go out and buy my tickets like everybody else. If only somebody had told me that it’s not offensive, I could’ve had somebody else stand up and fight for my right to be a good-luck charm. And I know if the situation were flipped and teams were called, oh, the Alabama Crackers or the Vermont Maple Syrup Lickers or the Detroit B-Boys(ph), Jeb would be out there telling people, `That ain’t offensive. That’s just the way they are.’ But Bush really threw a beat-down on the NCAA telling those lefty do-gooders, instead of worrying about what minority group is getting their little girly feelings hurt, they ought to be more worried about, quote, "the graduation rates of most college athletes," unquote. Of course, most college athletes actually graduate at a higher rate than average students, but this is an emotional issue. Who needs facts? So please, people of color, just get off your PC high horses. Go about your business, and leave the decision on what’s offensive to somebody who’s not you.

Critics may cry that Wisconsin’s law upends proud school traditions just to avoid treading on the sensitivities of certain uptight folks. They may call it an unjust attack on free expression. But to the communities who have born witness to centuries of cultural genocide, and seen their heritage reduced to racialized buffoonery on a ball field, the new policy marks one hard-earned point toward settling the historical score. *Photo: Anti-mascot protest sign at Carpinteria High School (2009, [LA Indymedia](Image: Anti-mascot protest sign at Carpinteria High School (2009, LA Indymedia)))*