What’s so wrong about Indian mascots?

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As a boy growing up in Middle Tennessee, Jeffery Hobbs selected the Washington Redskins as his favorite NFL team. 

It made sense. Hobbs is part Native American, along with African American.

“’Redskins’ did not mean that much to me,” said Hobbs, who grew up to be an authority on the mascot issue, as well as relations between Native Americans and African Americans. 

“I had heard older Native American men refer to each other by that,” Hobbs said. “They would call each other ‘Skin,’ and so I never really associated it with any negativity at the time.”

“Redskins” as used by white people has darker origins.

“The story in my family goes that the term dates back to the institutionalized genocide of Native Americans, most notably when the Massachusetts colonial government placed a bounty on their heads,” wrote Native American sports journalist Baxter Holmes in a June 2014 article in Esquire magazine.

The British king in 1755 offered bounties for the murder of Native Americans. Their bloody scalps were the proof and were called “redskins.”

“The mascot of the Washington Redskins, if the team desired accuracy, would be a gory, bloodied crown from the head of a butchered Native American,” Holmes added.

For Hobbs, the behavior of fans, including war cries and wearing inappropriate headdresses and face paint, sealed his objections to using Redskins as a nickname. 

“It gives us a negative image of ourselves … primarily because of the behavior of the fans and the mocking of the culture,” Hobbs said. “The appropriation of ceremonies and what we wear is all caricature.”

The Washington Redskins dropped the nickname in 2020 and announced the Commanders as the team’s new identity in 2022.

But Redskins and other Native American nicknames are still used around the country, Hobbs said. He has led campaigns to get some of those nicknames changed. 

“I've taken my daughters when they were younger to games,” he said. “They saw the war paint and dancing and things like that, gross characterizations of what we do, and it hurt them. 

“They didn't understand why people would do that.”

Return to main story, Weekend spotlights Native culture

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