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From a marketing standpoint, why would an organization want a symbol that many Americans deem offensive?
In May of 2019 Maine banned the use of Native American mascots in its public schools and colleges. No more whooping braves, no more grinning chiefs, no more tomahawk yielding warriors in loin clothes. This is part of a national movement that is picking up momentum.
Maine became the first state in the nation to outlaw the use of such images by educational institutions and athletic programs. Will other states follow suit?
More to the point, are you listening Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves? Golden State Warriors, I wouldn’t rule yourselves out, the team started out in 1946 as the Philadelphia Warriors, with a comical brave with a one-feather headband dribbling a basketball. And a 1960s San Francisco logo with a chief’s war bonnet headdress is part of team history too.
Many Americans sports fans are divided on the issue of Native American mascots. One side favors tradition and calls a foul on political correctness, while another side decries historical oppression and the continuation of stereotypes.
The law in Maine prohibits the use of a name, symbol or image related to a Native American tribe, person, custom or tradition for use as a mascot, logo or team name.
In May of 2018 San Diego State University (for full disclosure, a college where I got a master’s degree and I once served on the university’s athletic board) decided to keep the word Aztec as its nickname, but vowed to create a more culturally sensitive version of its mascot. The Aztec warrior doesn’t do pushups in the football endzone or cavorts with the cheerleaders any more.
San Diego State has been debating the racially charged issue for 20 years. The action was part of a larger national movement from high school teams to universities to Major League Baseball to tweak or drop nicknames.
In 2018 when Jim Thome of the Cleveland Indians was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, he asked that his plaque not include the logo of the mascot Chief Wahoo on his hat.
In 2018 Indians owner Paul Dolan and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed the team would no longer use the grinning Chief Wahoo logo caricature after the 2018 season because it was no longer deemed appropriate for on-field use. However, the Cleveland Indians are still selling some Chief Wahoo merchandise.
The traditionalists argue that the mascots honor Native American people. I know that was an argument at San Diego State. But many complained they were personally offended. Perhaps the most offensive use is the name of the NFL Washington Redskins, an image that many argue is an outright racial slur.
I am politically neutral, and I am not calling for other state legislatures to ban the Native American mascots. I am not an expert on the debate of what is honoring tribes like the Aztecs and Blackhawks, and what is a racial slur.
Marketing is my expertise. From a marketing standpoint, I am arguing that organizations that are keeping these mascots are on the wrong side of history. A brand needs to stand for something. Remember offensive marketing mascots like the Frito Bandito? He had to go.
In 2012 when the University of North Dakota switched from being the Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks, they were playing it smart from a branding perspective. Other organizations should take a page from that playbook.
June 1, 2019 at 06:06AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs