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Fighting Racist Stereotypes in Sports, One Poll at a Time

Suzan Shown Harjo
5/14/13

A thousand people were asked in April if the Washington NFL franchise should change its name and (shocker) 79 percent said no. Respondents were mostly white (65 percent), middle-aged (55 percent, 30-64), conservative to moderate (70 percent) pro football fans (56 percent), and nearly one-quarter (23 percent) were Tea Party supporters. Two percent said they were American Indian/Alaska Native, but they were not asked whether they were citizens of Native nations and, if so, of any specific one, or if they spoke a Native language or needed a translator.

The Associated Press and GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications conducted 1,004 telephone interviews in English or Spanish from April 11 to 15, framing the question this way: “Some people say that the Washington Redskins should change its team name because it is offensive to native American Indians. Others say the name is not intended to be offensive, and should not be changed. What about you: Should the Redskins change their team name, or not?” 11 percent said change the name; 8 percent don’t know; and 2 percent, no response.

AP reported that the 79 percent who want no name change is a “10 percentage point drop from the last national poll on the subject, conducted in 1992 by The Washington Post and ABC News just before the team won its most recent Super Bowl.” (Eighty-nine percent wanted no change and 7 percent wanted change.)

The AP-GfK poll is a good example of why racism should never be put up to a popular vote, because racism will win every time. (Imagine a poll about the N-word in the 1960s.) Not that everyone polled is racist. Some probably answered out of ignorance or failure to appreciate that the topic is nuanced. Some may even have been surprised to hear that Native Peoples are still around.

The question itself is a product of racial bias. The AP, which keeps the style book for most of journalism, does not capitalize the N in Native, Native American or, as in the question above, “native American Indians,” while it does cap the R-word. One is a designation for nearly 600 Native American Peoples, but is lowercased in AP style, while the other is the name of a private sports club and is always capped.

Notice, too, that AP personalizes the R-word — “Should the Redskins change their team name, or not?” – when its is properly used in the first sentence. However, Native Peoples are not personalized or humanized – simply “native American Indians,” when people and/or nations would be respectful and accurate.

Then, there is the set-up, which weights the question on the side of the offenders and even makes an excuse for them, as if intent lessens the impact of the offense. It simply is not up to the offending class to define the nature of the offense or to say what offends the offended.

Another poll — the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey — reared its faulty head in the March 7 hearing before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in Blackhorse et al v. Pro Football, Inc. The football club’s lawyer touted that survey as proving scientifically that 91 percent of American Indians are not offended by the team name. One of the three trademark judges reminded him that the 2004 poll is way out of bounds, given that evidence in the case is confined to the period of existing federal trademark licenses, 1967-1990.

In a sea of queries on many other topics, Annenberg posed a single convoluted one to 768 persons it claimed were Native American: “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you?” Annenberg reported, “Most American Indians say that calling Washington’s professional football team the ‘Redskins’ does not bother them” and that only 9 percent said the name was “offensive.”

“The sample size is incredibly small,” said Professor and Chair C. Richard King, Department of Critical Gender & Race Studies, Washington State University. “The study shows something more than a lack of understanding of Indigenous Peoples, something akin to a total disregard.”

Co-Editor of Team Spirits, Native Athletes in Sport and Society and Encyclopedia of Native Americans in Sports, King calls the survey “troubling at best, not especially reliable and not really a study of American Indian understandings of mascots, but a kind of ill-conceived looting from which knowledge could be manufactured rather cynically for the next news cycle”

“And they still did not ascertain that respondents were actually Native People,” said Professor Ellen J. Staurowsky, Department of Sport Management, Goodwin School of Professional Studies, Drexel University.

“Repeated in headlines and taken up as fact,” said Staurowsky, “this finding serves as an anchor for those who recast a racial expletive as a benign symbol of community good will (and) is simply accepted on its face without critical consideration because it allows the status quo to remain in place.” She calls the poll “flawed from the start” and its question “unanswerable.”

Staurowsky, King and others also have critiqued the race prejudice in a 2002 poll by Sports Illustrated, which declines to release its data about the “American Indians” it claims it surveyed.

Staurowsky says the Washington franchise is “capitalizing on the pain and suffering caused by racism so profound and so deep that it cynically attempts to pit American Indians against each other through this kind of superficial ‘opinion’ polling.”

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Muscogee), is an award-winning Columnist for ICTMN and President of The Morning Star Institute.

 

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curtj's picture
You have ot look at the state of journalism. To me, it is no different than the 1800's with journalists calling for the genocide of the Indigenous so the illegal European immigrants could do their Manifest Destiny and steal the Indigenous peoples resources and lands as well as putting them in concentration camps. The so called journalists are nothing more than paid pundits for whatever corporate thievery is going on, keeping waters muddied, investigative reporting skewed to the investigated. The corporate owned news media is bought and paid for, to advance the philosophies and ideals of the "Capitatlist" skullduggery, theft and murder and refusing to print any information critical to their corporate employers and cronies. The deliberate usage of derogatory names is meant to continue the subjugation of the Indigenous
curtj
Anonymous's picture
It continues to be lost on all. Would a sports team named the yellow, brown, or blackskins be accepted in today's world. I really don't have a problem with names such as the Fighting Sioux, as do other Sioux indians, but come on - the Redskins? Only in DC. Don't think Obama would miss any games over it either - it is lost on the DNC, too, who loves to continue to subjugate anyone who will let them.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This poll is totally biased, and not even a drop in the ocean. Staurowsky says..."capitalizing on the pain and suffering caused by racism so profound and so deep that it cynicallty attempts to pit American Indians against each other through this kind of superficial 'opinion' polling." How does he know this? I'm sorry I can not... No scratch that I am not sorry, but I can not buy into this article. Oh and by the way I am NATIVE AMERICAN.
Anonymous
curtj's picture
As a colonial power, in collusion with others, our government must always denigrate the Indigenous, to keep in perspective the right to keep the Indigenous subjugated, so our government can finish stealing whatever resources and lands the Indigenous have held onto, after centuries of theft and murder. What our government refuses to admit is the policies of colonialism is nothing but theft and murder and results in terrorist attacks against America by people incensed at seeing their resources stolen and people subjugated by bribed despot dictators in order for profits from the stolen resources to go to neo con foreign owned oil, energy and mining conglomerates and their bribed local enforcers.
curtj
Anonymous's picture
Thank you again for another excellent article, it was very revealing how these people made choices about which words to treat as a proper noun. I do recoil when I think about my own public school education and how history was "whitewashed". To get a passing grade meant memorizing a bunch of "facts" almost all of which said that Native Americans no longer exist. I had hoped that the NFL and other team owners would be more educated, inclusive, and concerned about treating people well instead of just taking their money. It does hurt to know that they have been informed of this issue many times and they are CHOOSING to do nothing. I will choose something else to occupy my free time and resources other than the NFL.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I think you must be Racist give it a break
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Can the author define a "real" Indian. Nickname controversies are troublesome, have been with us forever and unfortunately will continue - even though many of us would like them to be changed. But the author seems to suggest at least four times that there is a degree of blood that makes or breaks calling oneself an Indian, or that researchers are not to be trusted in knowing who is or is not an Indian: 1) in the first paragraph. 2) in "a sea of queries" paragraph. 3) paragraph beginning "and the still..." 4) and the "Staurwsky, King and others" paragraph. I am not a full- blooded Indian. But I did have full-blooded Indian relatives who were forced down the Trail of Tears from Mississippi-Tennessee to Oklahoma. Thereafter, the blood line thinned, for whatever reasons, hopefully love between couples, regardless of skin color or other "definers." So while I support the efforts to remove offensive nicknames it offends me even more when I am considered less of an Indian with less voice because of a family line that includes blood, or heritage, that includes Ireland -- and I'm sure other "components." Its almost the reverse of white racist. How black does one have to be to be Black? Is the president a Black or white man? I acknowledge all of what makes me who I am, first and foremost my Choctaw and Cherokee blessings.
Anonymous
Michael Madrid's picture
Well, here's your problem. "Respondents were mostly white (65 percent), middle-aged (55 percent, 30-64), conservative to moderate (70 percent) pro football fans (56 percent), and nearly one-quarter (23 percent) were Tea Party supporters." White, Conservative, sports fans with a few uneducated Tea Baggers thrown in for hilarity. I could have told you the results of that survey only by know who was surveyed. No to be redundant, but it's like polling Southern slave owners whether or not they believed African-Americans were human.
Michael Madrid
Anonymous's picture
Let's see if this gets past your corporate sponsors. The stereotyping of the Indigenous as coarse, heathens is the image the colonial powers must depict us. It gives them the neccessary self esteem buildup to justify the theft and murder of our resources and Dene', our people were subjected to since the illegal European immigrants first began stealing and murdering their way across this country. The use of the obscene Indigenous carricatures to depict our people is condoned by the descendants of the illegal European immigrants, since they see nothing wrong with what their ancestors did. They refuse to admit the policies of colonialism are nothing more than theft and murder and results in terrorist attacks against us. To admit the policies of colonialism are theft and murder, is to admit our governmental policies of invading other countries to enable the transglobal oil, energy and mining conglomerates to profit off stolen resources, as well as to profit the military industrial complex with the sale of their wares of pain, suffering and death. As well as to admit the US governments policies of theft and murder resulted in the murder of 3,000 Americans on 9/11, for the profit margins of the multi national neo conservative owned conglomerate pimps and their bought off , bribed Washington political prostitutes. Colonialism = theft and murder = terrorism The worst thing about is, our so called leaders refuse to point out this basic fact and the root cause of terrorism. America has no ethics, morality or legal standing to continue these policies of colonialism
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I really think that our problems are policy rather than fake images.
Anonymous

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