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A different take on the native iconography in sports argument

Sep 26, 2012, 4:39 PM EDT

Wahoo Cover

I have a go at Chief Wahoo every six months or so. It’s just what I do.  But I’ll grant that it gets old arguing that Chief Wahoo should go away simply because he’s offensive.

Why? Because it never solves anything. Despite the fact that it is 100% rationally undeniable that Chief Wahoo is offensive, there will always be people who come back with all kinds of complicated, contrived nonsense to say he isn’t because if they don’t their childhood will be ruined or something. I dunno. Ask them. It’s hard to hear their arguments what with all of that mouth-breathing.

Anyway, today Paul Lukas tries to sidestep the basic offensiveness argument — about not just Wahoo, but over native American iconography in general — with this tack:

I see this as more of an intellectual property issue. Basically, for those of us who aren’t Native American (which basically means the vast majority of the people who reading this), I don’t think we have the right to use images of headdresses, tomahawks, tribe names, and so on. It’s not a question of whether such symbols are offensive, or whether they perpetuate outdated stereotypes; it’s that they don’t belong to us. If a non-Jewish group used a menorah or a Star of David in its marketing, wouldn’t that raise a few eyebrows? Ditto for a non-military group using a Purple Heart. And if those examples don’t pass the smell test, neither does a sports team using Native American iconography.

I guess I can see where he’s coming from, but I submit that there are all manner of businesses in this country that use some sort of naming or iconography that doesn’t really belong to them. There are thousands of little shops, campgrounds, restaurants, you name it, that use some sort of name or iconography from some sort of ethnic group or singularly respected group of any kind, despite having no connection to them at all.  People exploit Memorial Day for mattress sales, for cryin’ out loud.

I’m not saying Lukas is wrong here. He makes a good argument, but I still think the best argument is that these things are just offensive.

Oh, and finally: before you wade into the comments with your “what about the Fighting Irish!” idiocy, read ALL of Lukas’ column. There he deals with the usual counter-arguments and dispatches them pretty deftly.

  1. plseattle - Sep 27, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    i’m sure the original intent of the image was to honor native american, wait – “indian”, heritage but comon, that was a long time ago it is clearly offensive toward a topic/history that deserves much more sensitivity.

    i really never thought about it until i attended a native american language school (as a reporter) and heard their perspective. many were part of activist groups that aim to remove native american iconography as mascots.

  2. 4cornersfan - Sep 27, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Craig: As you should know as a lawyer that any intellectual property in names, and images of headdresses and tomahawks are now firmly in the public domain from decades of use. Further, aside from the fact that these names and items did not originate in the tribes of North America (for instance, the term “Indians” was coined by Europeans, and as pointed out by others here, hand axes and feathers have been used by cultures predating Native Americans), there is the question of whether or not a cultural group can limit the use of these types of things as a way of exercising political power. Some Native Americans appear to resent the use of such icons because they claim to believe that they tend to denigrate their culture or mark them as inferior. The claims of these groups are political rather than based on personal outrage or resentment These claims ignore the fact that the originators of the team names and symbols were merely trying to express local lore or a combative spirit, and have no relationship to oppression or cultural inferiority. Words and expressions should not be held captive to political purposes, no matter how legitimate the purpose may be. It’s like zookeepers attacking the use of images of elephants and donkeys as political party symbols because they do not agree with the animal rights positions espoused by the two parties. The exception that comes to mind is the use of “redskins,” as in the Washington football team. I don’t think team names should be based on skin color, but that exception is based upon common decency not the law of intellectual property.

  3. bigleagues - Sep 27, 2012 at 6:01 PM

    Not for nothing, but Lukas argument is one of the worst I’ve seen yet.

    There is nothing true about what he says. Non-Jewish & non-Irish, etc . . . companies use religious and cultural imagery CONSTANTLY in marketing.

    The fact remains, companies & individuals are free to use whatever imagery they deem fit for their product or service. That doesn’t in turn mean that I or anyone, for that matter, approve of the chosen use.

    It’s all about judgement. And the Indians continue to use poor judgement and their fans continue to enable them.

  4. iruletheweb - Sep 28, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Does the NBC Peacock offend peacocks?

    • koufaxmitzvah - Oct 1, 2012 at 8:12 AM

      Are you comparing Native Americans to peacocks?

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