On Monday, Washington Post sports writer Kevin Blackistone declared that public protests and lawsuits are winning the war on words against the continued use of Native American nicknames and mascots. But it depends on what the meaning of "winning" is: Polling by his own newspaper says that opponents of Redskins, Indians and other such nicknames are losing badly in the court of Native American opinion.
Blackistone, a frequent panelist on ESPN's Around The Horn (see file photo), pays tribute to Suzan Shown Harjo, who received the Presidential Medal of Honor from Barack Obama, after fighting for decades against Indian nicknames. Blackistone calls her an "iconic human rights figure in this country, particularly for Native Americans, best known for being in the vanguard of the fight to erase the slur — that so stung her sensibilities over three score ago — from sports teams cheered here and around the country.... Her legacy screamed for her."
Last month, the state of Maine enacted a law prohibiting the use of Native American nicknames. The Post editorialized in favor of that, and Blackistone now says the legislation in Maine underscores "the resiliency of the movement to cleanse sports teams of outdated mascots and monikers that cause offense and do real harm."
Pertaining to the NFL with its Redskins and Chiefs, Blackstone is not as confident of victory. He fears the winning movement Harjo started driving so long ago has "stalled somewhere:"
"The NFL team I grew up rooting for in this town, where Harjo moved in the early '70s and reared her children on Capitol Hill, still touts the most derogatory of Indian epithets and imagery. Most broadcasters of its games say the name without a modicum of concern."
Blackistone puts down the journalists who once announced they would no longer use the "Washington NFL team's nickname." That was after the federal government labeled it "offensive to Native Americans" and no longer eligible for federal protection. But they are speaking that name again.
These media "point to a 2017 case that upheld disparaging speech as protected free speech and yet another public survey purportedly of Native Americans that found them unconcerned with the Washington NFL team's name," Blackistone writes. They are bucking a poll by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino, "that found most American Indians felt otherwise just as inconsiderably as our society has ignored the native people of this land except for its own exploitative benefits."
Imagine that: a progressive California university runs a poll finding that most Native Americans disagree with two Washington Post polls finding that most Native Americans are not offended by Native American mascots.
Sticking with his favorite poll, Blackistone declares his favorite "truth": "the momentum Harjo built with public protests and lawsuits over the bulk of her life is winning this war on words."
"From California to Maine, Indian nicknames and mascots started disappearing. Apaches. Blackhawks. Braves. Chiefs. Indians. Savages. Redskins. Cleveland's baseball team finally retired its degrading mascot logo Chief Wahoo," writes Blackistone.
However, reservation schools in western states are sticking with "Chiefs" and "Redskins." Yet Blackistone would have his readers believe that after "all these years later, there is so much less. Really, all that is left is one."
Blackistone is a wee bit off. The blog Five-Thirty-Eight reported in a recent year that more than 2,000 sports teams are using Indian nicknames. The list includes 75 teams going by "Redskins," and thus, the Washington NFL team is hardly the last of the Mohicans.