Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots
By Guest Contributors C. Richard King and David J. Leonard
One would hope sport media outlets might take their civic duty to foster critical thinking, public engagement, and informed debated seriously. Their approach to the representations in Native Americans in sport suggest otherwise. Under the veil of fairness and balance, they opt to speak for, to be silent and to silence as preferred pathways.
When ESPN columnist Rick Reilly offered a defense of Native American mascots because the American Indians he knew did not have a problem with them. Flouting his whiteness and playing his privilege with little regard, he spoke for Native Americas. His word – his whiteness, his platform – made their words meaningful. His editors neither batted an eye nor cleared a space for Native Americans to express themselves.
In fact, Reilly misrepresented his key source, his father-in-law, who wrote a lengthy retort in Indian Country Today that noted he found the name of Washington D.C.’s National Football League team to be objectionable. Reilly still stood by his piece and neither he nor his publisher have offered a correction or an apology.
Fans of Washington, D.C.’s NFL team. Image by Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons.
Similarly, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the franchise, continually invokes American Indians to support the team name, imagery and traditions, as in his recent sentimental letter to the public, from one-time coach Lone Star Dietz (who claimed to be but was indeed not indigenous) as the inspiration of the honorific name to the Red Cloud School (a reservation school which does not support it).
Not surprisingly, someone who loves and profits from the invented Indian figure he owns does not have a problem with offering up insincere fictions in his defense. He doesn’t invoke the history of colonization and genocide, or the specific racial history of his own franchise. Predictably, someone who reaps the daily benefit of white supremacy sees little problem with the football team located in the nation’s capital having for its mascot a racist slur seeped in white supremacist colonial history.