As February break began, my family and I decided to take a trip down to sunny Vero Beach, Florida. We left early in the morning in order to get there by mid-day. We safely landed at Orlando international airport and began our hour and half-drive to Vero Beach.
After driving through flat lands and farms, we finally settled down at our hotel and were ready to begin our vacation. We noticed we were close to the local high school as we left the hotel, so I decided to check their website out of curiosity. I was immediately greeted by an intersecting V and B with Native American feathers hanging off the side. After further research, I eventually discovered their team name—the Vero Beach Fighting Indians.
I was taken aback by the name, and it sparked a conversation in my head regarding Native American imagery being used for sports teams, logos, and other branding. Teams like the Cleveland Guardians and Washington Commanders recently rebranded due to their use of offensive Native American imagery, yet many pro, amateur, and high school teams still hang on to their outdated logos and traditions. It was only within the past thirty years that our high school and surrounding towns moved away from Native American logos. Until the mid-1990s, Wellesley was the “Red Raiders,” Natick was the “Redmen” until 2008, and until 2020 Braintree was the “Wamps.”
The Atlanta Braves, Florida State Seminoles, and Kansas City Chiefs still make use of the “tomahawk chop,” a celebration in which fans move their arms up and down to represent a tomahawk and yell out stereotypical Native American chants. Despite movements directed towards removing such racist actions, the traditions continue.
Traditions are always hard to break, and when someone calls for the removal of a mascot, many fight back in order to preserve what they know. The now Natick Redhawks had a difficult fight to change their names from the Redmen. A website dedicated to the cause features opinions and blogs dedicated to the subject.
“Natick Redmen is more than a name we have called our sports teams for decades. It is the symbol of everything we stand for – strength, courage, pride, and respect; the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.” said a contributor to Redmen Forever.
Despite major strides to remove such offensive imagery throughout Massachusetts, the fight continues. On January 11, 2021, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill in which our state flag and seal would be changed. Our current flag portrays a Native American in the middle with a hand and a sword placed above. The deadline for the contest to redesign the flag has been pushed to March 31, 2023, yet as of now, the flag still remains the same.
It is important that we take action and make sure that these offensive traditions die out quickly. Traditions such as the “tomahawk chop” and mascots coined with the name “Indian(s)” desperately need to fall by the wayside. Through social media and through local Native American chapters, students and community members can make a change and make sure that we remove offensive imagery.
It is important to know that you can be a fan of the team and dislike the name. It is the fans who are in charge and need to protest ownership in order to make the name change. Unless media and news coverage spread the word about these offensive names, they will continue to linger on, and many know nostalgia is a very tough enemy to fight against. The longer a name stays, the more difficult it will become to remove. Sports teams across the U.S. need to come to the realization that times have changed and that using such imagery isn’t appropriate anymore. Using imagery in this way is clearly offensive and sends a negative message toward native Americans, and it is why we desperately need to move away from it.