Sports Team Nicknames and Native Americans

In recent years, one debate that has cropped up on and off in American sports is what to do about sports team nicknames that have Native American roots. It’s a topic that fans of sports teams with Native American-related names and/or mascots feel passionately about; those teams include, but are not limited to, the Washington Redskins Football Team (football), Kansas City Chiefs (football), Cleveland Indians (baseball), Atlanta Braves (baseball), University of Utah Utes, Florida State University Seminoles, and Chicago Blackhawks (hockey). It’s a topic so divided that people ranging from journalists to Native American activists have chimed in with their opinions on this. It’s a particularly relevant topic as the team that used to be called the Washington Redskins in football is no longer to be called the Redskins but to simply be called “the Washington Football Team” until they find a new nickname).

I feel strongly about this—I have a problem with anything that promotes caricatures of Native Americans or has hurtful depictions of Native Americans, such as the image of the Chief Wahoo logo with the Cleveland Indians[1] baseball team or the tomahawk chop that is used at Florida State football, Atlanta Braves baseball, and Kansas City Chiefs football games.[2]

But, my feelings aside, or the feelings of others aside, it seems like the decisions on how to handle potential or actual Native American stereotypes are not in the right hands. It should be in the hands of the Native Americans affected by these stereotypes and caricatures. But they aren’t. It’s instead in the hands of wealthy (and often white) sports team owners and executives, as well as some of the teams’ fans—people who, in many cases, are not affected by the stereotypes at all, and to the contrary may sometimes lean toward promoting them if doing so is “tradition.”

Even in the cases where those favoring greater sensitivity and fewer stereotypes get their way, those decisions often happen because of pressure from other wealthy individuals or corporations. For example, in the case where the name of the NFL team in Washington finally got a name change, it was not because of Native American activists, but because of companies with so much money that they could financially cripple that NFL franchise if the companies did not get their way.[3]

And that’s the injustice that I want to focus on today, this Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We need to realize that, when it comes to the issue of Native American sports team nicknames, we aren’t always giving the Native Americans affected by the stereotypes the decision-making voice that they deserve.


[1] Chief Wahoo was apparently a name used for Native American caricatures: https://www.cleveland.com/tribe/2018/01/cleveland_indians_58.html

[2] Apparently, there is no indication that Native Americans did the gesture known as a tomahawk chop. Therefore, making the tomahawk chop seems to promote a stereotype of Native Americans doing something that they had no record of doing: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2012/09/origins-of-the-tomahawk-chop-scott-browns-staffers-mocking-elizabeth-warren-are-continuing-a-long-tradition.html

[3] https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/redskins-name-change-timeline-washington-football-team/1uk394uouwi631k7poirtq1v1s

Sports Sponsorships and Morality

A storefront with the Nike logo.

I don’t know how much I’ve shared this on my blog, but one of the sports I follow closely is NASCAR. Yes, the same NASCAR that for the longest time has been stereotyped as a racist southern sport…and backed up those stereotypes with all of the Confederate flags that fans were able to have in the infields of racetracks. It’s also the same NASCAR that made national news when it announced a long-overdue decision not to allow said flags at NASCAR events.

While NASCAR got positive attention for this, it also ended up in a bit of controversy when news broke that one of its teams was going to have “Trump 2020” on the car for a number of races—something that happened because the Patriots of America PAC (a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump) paid $350,000 to said race team to have “Trump 2020” on the car.[1] I’m sure some Trump supporters were happy to see their candidate’s name on the car (though maybe less so upon finding out that said car has spent most of the season below 25th place in points[2]), but many have pointed out the hypocrisy of advocating for a Confederate flag ban while allowing pro-Trump sponsorship at the races. And frankly, given some of the comments that President Trump has made about matters such as the Confederate flag, Confederate statues, and Black Lives Matter, I can see why someone would think that NASCAR is being hypocritical.

However, I think the debate over “Trump 2020” on a sub-25th place car should expand beyond even whether said sponsor is moral or should be allowed. Namely, we need to have a larger conversation about sports sponsorships and morality—a conversation we don’t have often for whatever reason—because there are quite a few sponsors throughout sports that are morally questionable. And if you think I’m being overly sensitive, consider this breakdown of sponsorships and morals (or lack thereof) in a number of top sports:

  • Mars: They sponsor the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch.[3] They also have a long-standing reputation of producing chocolate with child labor.[4]
  • Nike: They are the official supplier of NFL, NBA, and MLB uniforms.[5] They’ve had a history of using sweatshops to produce their apparel and are now linked to the use of forced labor.[6]
  • Caesars Entertainment: The NFL has an official casino sponsor in Caesars Entertainment.[7] Gambling is also an addiction that can and has ruined people’s lives.
  • Adidas: Adidas has a $700 million deal with Major League Soccer,[8] and they are also linked to accusations of forced labor.[9] Like Nike, Adidas has a history of sweatshop use.
  • Red Bull: They’re everywhere. They sponsor numerous soccer/football teams, a Formula One team, and more. Energy drinks can also be harmful for one’s body.[10]

This is not an exhaustive list of sponsors with morals that are questionable, but these are some of the major ones. Still, this short list should give people a sense of how reliant so many major sports are on sponsors such as these. This list shows that it’s an issue much bigger than “Trump 2020” on a race car. It’s also an issue that seems to get ignored in the debates over whether “Trump 2020” should be on a race car to begin with, even though it would be beneficial to include the Trump car in a larger debate on where to draw the line with sports sponsorships and morals.

As to how to tackle this issue with sports and sponsors with questionable morals, I’m not sure. There most certainly is a line that many major sports have drawn with sponsors—otherwise we might still be talking about the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.[11] But as to where exactly that line is drawn, it’s something that needs to really be discussed at-length, because while I wish there wasn’t the need for any of these morally questionable sponsors to begin with, I also realize that if not for the existence of these sponsors, many people would be out of their jobs, out of their livelihoods.

What do you, the reader, think of sports sponsorships and morality? Where do you think the line should be drawn? At which point do you believe a sponsor is morally questionable enough that it should not be allowed in by a sport? You need not be a sports fan to comment below!


[1] https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/breaking/ct-nascar-political-paint-schemes-20200704-pwofhks3nbdtfhskcr4ebsnrea-story.html

[2] https://www.racing-reference.info/drivdet/lajoico01/2020/W

[3] https://www.mms.com/en-us/experience-mms/nascar

[4] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/01/23/slavery-and-chocolate-some-not-so-sweet-truths/

[5] https://money.cnn.com/2018/03/27/news/companies/nike-nfl-gear-contract/index.html

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/siminamistreanu/2020/03/02/study-links-nike-adidas-and-apple-to-forced-uighur-labor/#41332b191003

[7] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2019/01/03/nfl-caesars-sign-casino-sponsor-deal-minus-sports-betting/38836737/

[8] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mls/2017/08/02/mls-gets-record-sponsorship-deal-adidas/534865001/

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/siminamistreanu/2020/03/02/study-links-nike-adidas-and-apple-to-forced-uighur-labor/#2c0f8bb61003

[10] The National Institutes of Health in the United States has a whole page breaking down the health impacts of energy drinks on one’s body, particularly those of teenagers and young adults: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/energy-drinks

[11] Winston, a brand of cigarettes, sponsored the top level of NASCAR for over three decades. Some of my earliest memories as a NASCAR fan come from when the top level was called the Winston Cup Series. The concerns over a cigarette brand sponsoring the series was why NASCAR changed title sponsors: https://www.foxsports.com/nascar/gallery/nascar-premier-series-names-through-the-years-120216

Addressing What We Do with the “Championship” Merchandise from a Team That Loses

Ah yes…what a joy it is to see the team you root for get a championship. You can then spend all night cheering, then get merchandise the next morning saying that your team won the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, etc. In fact, as I’m writing this, New England Patriots fans are probably still having fun buying merchandise saying that their team won the Super Bowl.

But what about the losing team?

Since there is such a desire to get merchandise to the players, coaches, and fans who won the championship in such short order, said merchandise is usually made, ahead of time, for both of the participants in the championship matchup. That way, all interested parties on the championship team can get their merchandise right after winning.

The “championship” merchandise of the losing team, on the other hand, goes to a different place. At least with many sports, the umbrella sports leagues work with organizations to make sure that the losing team’s merchandise can get to nations with people in need of clothing, such as places like Haiti after their catastrophic 2010 earthquake.[1]

On the surface, that sounds great: instead of destroying merchandise related to the losing team (which the National Football League apparently used to do), it’s repurposed for people in countries who really need the clothes, regardless of what those clothes say. And there’s no doubt that having these misprint clothes is way better than having no clothes at all.

That being said, there’s something off-putting about this practice. Namely, while this practice gives the appearance of helping those in most desperate need, this practice is also sending one or more of the following messages:

  1. “This stuff is not good enough for us; therefore, you can have it.”
  2. “We don’t want this stuff, so the poor people in poor countries must want this.”
  3. “We’ve taken what we wanted, so poor people can have the leftovers/what others didn’t want. Please take our unwanted garbage.”
  4. “People won’t know that the information is incorrect, and even if they did know, they wouldn’t care.”

None of the messages above are exactly positive ones, for sure. In fact, all of these messages revolve around a theme: that the developed United States, yet again, decides to use underdeveloped nations as a dumping ground for the “rubbish” that we don’t want.

So what should we do, then? For starters, we shouldn’t have misprint clothing exclusively go to developing nations (with the “correct” clothing only going to developed nations)—the benefits of the correct clothing and the burdens of misprint clothing should at the very least be shared. Additionally, it might be wise for these sports leagues to actually think about how they really want to sacrifice in order to help underdeveloped countries. Because let’s face it: sports leagues don’t sacrifice anything by giving away misprint championship merchandise to a place like Haiti—they don’t sacrifice any profits, they don’t sacrifice a portion or their fan base, and they don’t sacrifice on ticket prices, they don’t sacrifice anything else. However, using money and resources to make sure a child gets an education, gets health care, and gets food might sacrifice something monetarily, but would also do a ton of good.


[1] https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2017/1/14/14272992/what-happens-to-losing-teams-championsip-shirts