We've evolved to the point where it's now generally agreed that promoting religious and ethnic stereotypes is wrong. History shows quite clearly that this is a form of dehumanization, which makes it easier to ignore the individual humanity of the target. Native Americans have long been the brunt of such stereotypes in fiction and cinema, with depictions of them as red-skinned savages that "smoked peace pipes, wore face paint, danced around totem poles (often with a hostage tied to them), sent smoke signals, lived in tepees, wore feathered head-dresses, scalped their foes, and said 'um' instead of 'the' or 'a'." (Wikipedia)
While we've managed to transcend much of this, such stereotypes live on and professional sports remains a notable example. The Atlanta Braves surprisingly brought back its discontinued Chief Noc-A-Homa logo (shown at right), which first appeared in 1945, for last year's batting practice caps. And it was only after decades of objections from groups such as the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Education Association that Chief Illiniwek, the logo employed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for its intercollegiate athletic programs, was retired after more than 70 years. Along with the Chief Illiniwek mascot, who would prance around during games decked out in traditional Lakota (Sioux) regalia and perform imaginary "Native Indian" dances.
But as vestiges of a bygone era, the logo for the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves are alive and well and whooping it up. And this kind of thing doesn't just happen at the national level or only in the United States. The town of Moose Jaw, in Saskatchewan, Canada, recently decided to bring back a logo for its Warriors hockey team which had originated in the 1980s (shown at left) and declared itself shocked, shocked, when objections arose. But if Moose Javians, as they're called, can be forgiven for misreading public opinion, you would think that a sophisticated, global corporation — which specializes in sports and fitness products — would be far removed from this kind of blindness to ethnic stereotyping. You would think so but you would be wrong.
Because Nike has had to issue a statement defending its use of the highly-contentious Chief Wahoo logo (shown at top), for many years employed by the Cleveland Indians. After Nike started adding the wacky Chief to its merchandise, a group called Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry launched a social media offensive on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr that quickly caught the attention of the media. Nike's Friday response, however, ducked the issue of responsibility on its part, stating simply that "Each MLB team is responsible for choosing their team logos and marks and we understand that the Cleveland Indians are engaging their fans and the local community in conversation concerning their logo. Nike has a long history of supporting the Native American community and we encourage the teams and leagues to engage in constructive dialogue with their communities."
Given that "long history" let's hope Nike wakes up and simply stops using such offensive imagery, especially since even the Cleveland Indians has given up on the Chief and now simply uses a red letter C on its uniforms. But of course, who'd want to buy that?