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Non-biased Language: Name and Mascot Changes
by Krista Schmidt

Have you ever wondered why you have not heard school teams referred to as the Indians, Warriors, Braves, Chiefs, Mohawks, or Redmen lately? Many of these names were changed because they were viewed as racist and stereotypical. The changes were made using non-biased language. The name and mascot changes did not come easy, and many communities still have strong opinions against the changes.

Name and mascot changes began when the Concerned American Indian Parents Group brought their concerns to the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) and the State Board of Education. These three groups discovered many reasons to change school names and mascots that may be viewed as offensive, stereotypical, discriminatory, or prejudicial toward certain groups.

The Concerned American Indian Parents Group, MCLU, and State Board of Education thought that names such as the Indians created an intimidating or offensive environment. Mascots developed and perpetuated racist perceptions of Native Americans at athletic events through dress, war cries, and feathers. These organizations believed Indians were depicted as ferocious, bloodthirsty, viscous people, which was untrue. The MCLU discovered that the nicknames of Warriors and Braves violated state laws and the Constitution, stating that these names violated equal protection.

Some communities wanted to keep their names and mascots because they lived in an Indian schooling community. Therefore, they viewed the names and mascots as a sign of respect and tradition. Others knew that there would be no changes for professional teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, or Kansas City Chiefs, so why did the communities need to change? In an editorial, a writer joked about the issue by stating that, "the animal society should make a fuss about teams using Dolphins, Cardinals, Lions, Rams, or Bears as mascots; and the money from the Vikings should go to their Norwegian friends" (Lesley, p. 2). The writer's idea was that nicknames were used solely for identification purposes.

Those that agreed with the organizations like the MCLU believed that neither the Constitution nor society should permit a school to use Black, White, Jew, or other races as mascots (Schools told to drop). How would a community feel if their school was to be called the St. Paul Caucasians or the Minneapolis Hispanics? However, the name changes were expensive for many schools. Previously, the Indian name and mascot was the third most popular team name in Minnesota, with 22 schools using the logo (School told to drop).

Along with the name changes were mascot changes. Minnesota State University, Mankato has had many names and mascots. The University did not actually have a true mascot until the College Spirit newspaper called for a distinctive name in 1934, and a Bemidiji homecoming float depicted Mankato as the dead, scalped Indians (Boehm). In October of 1971, the Mankato State College Native American Association thought the name should be changed, but nothing was done. In 1976, action was taken for a new mascot.The change came when the University president and other leaders were at a football game and saw the team mascot dressed in a headdress of colorful feathers, beaded shirt, animal-skin pants, moccasins, and carrying a tomahawk. This brought disgust and embarrassment to the University. The mascot was changed to the Mavericks on July 1, 1977 (Anderson, 1983).

As technical communicators, we must present ideas through non-biased language. People should be proud of their heritage, ethnic backgrounds, and gender, and not be subject to misunderstanding through unfair and inaccurate portrayals.

References

Anderson, D. 1983. Letter to columnist, 13 October.

Boehm, D. 1934. Sports forecast. College Spirit, 11 October, final edition.

Lesley, G. 1976. Editorial: Efforts absurd. Independent, 13 October, final edition.

Star Tribune. 1992. Wisconsin bias opinion may help other states banish Indian mascots, 19 October.


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