Team names referencing Native Americans and the use of Native American mascots were not borne from a place of support and respect. They came from an era of racism and were designed to mock Native American culture and propagate negative stereotypes. The intent behind the names makes them offensive. The intent is what separates inoffensive comments from offensive ones. Names born from racism, no matter how innocuous or seemingly benign, become offensive.
The Washington Redsk*ns original owner, George Preston Marshall, chose to use the name Redskin in 1932. During this period, the American government was pursuing policies deliberately designed to terminate and marginalise Native American communities. Under the Civilian Regulations act, Native American dances and rituals were forbidden. The movement of Native American people was restricted, and they were confined to designated reservations. The act sought to outlaw Native American culture. George Preston Marshall knew this. He did give his team its name as a gesture of solidarity with the plight of the Native American people. In fact, he was a renowned segregationist and racist. He was instrumental in bringing about a 13-year, league-wide ban on African American players in 1933. Under his ownership, the Redsk*ns were also one of the last NFL teams to integrate and allow black and white players to play on the same team. Marshall succumbed only when the league forced him to do so in 1963.
They were not borne out of racism. Many were borne out of historical notions of masculinity. By the 1930s, the rugged cowboy and Indian imagery associated with the American West had become synonymous with stoicism, fortitude, bravery and resilience. Sports teams used these names, not to deprecate, but to tap into tap into this imagery and symbolism. For example, the Atlanta Braves originally assumed their name for these reasons. The team began in Boston as the Boston Braves in 1911. James Gaffney, the club’s president, was a member of the Tammany Hall political party, which had sourced its name from Tammamend, a renowned and respected Native American chief from the Delaware Valley. The Tammany Hall political party adopted the headdress as its logo and its supporters became known as the Braves. For the aristocratic Bostonians, the Braves and its link to democratic values resonated more than the Doves, the team’s former name. Not all teams’ Native American names and logos were borne from racism. Some were borne out of respect and the desire to pay homage to the Native American histories of the region. To dismiss all Native American team names and mascots as offensive overlooks this poignant fact.
[P1] A comment or image is not inherently offensive, but if it is meant with bad intent, it becomes offensive. [P2] The names and mascots behind Native American sports teams were devised with racist intent. [P3] Therefore, they are offensive.
[Rejecting P2] Not all sports teams carrying Native American nomenclature and imagery adopted it for racist purposes. [Rejecting P3] Many did so as a mark of respect. Therefore, the act alone is not offensive.