Washington NFL team playing a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns in 2019. Photo by Erik Drost on WikiMedia Commons

By Claire Davis, age 12

Washington, D.C.’s NFL football team decided to drop their team name because it was offensive, containing a racial slur, to the Native American community it portrayed. They aren’t the only sports team with this problem.

A study of Native American high schoolers found exposure to Native American mascots decreased students’ sense of self-worth, as reported by Politico. The portrayal of their community as sports mascots proved extremely harmful, as Professor Stephanie Fryberg of the University of Michigan, who is a member of the Tulalip Tribes, explains in an interview with the Washingtonian. Team names like the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks and Cleveland Indians have the same negative impact on Indigenous communities.

Many people in the United States are fighting to change this trend for good. In February, Illinois lawmakers introduced a new bill intended to limit the use of Native mascots in schools. The bill prohibits schools in the state from using Native American logos, names, teams or mascots unless they have been granted permission from a Native American tribe within 500 miles of the school, according to CNN. Illinois schools who choose to use these harmful symbols would also need to begin a schoolwide program on Native American culture and write a yearly report for the state on these programs.

Many people, Native American or otherwise, believe that Native mascots should be prohibited. A UC Berkeley study found that half of over 1,000 Native Americans surveyed were offended by Native mascots in general. Some argue that using Native American symbolism is meant to portray a positive connection to Indigenous cultures. But Professor Fryberg also stated that Native American mascots affect self-esteem “more than negative stereotypes.”

Arianne Eason, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, noted, “The debate over the continued use of Native mascots should be more closely attuned to Native American voices, particularly the voices of those who are most highly identified.” Eason collaborated with Fryberg in their study on Native American teens. But, according to Politico, team names and mascots are just one part of a much larger conversation about respect and inclusion toward different cultures in America.