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Tuesday, August 28, 2012
American Indian Mascot Sensitivity at the University of Utah

The Sports Law Blog has tackled the issue of American Indian mascots many times over the past few years. Last week, Dr. Chris Hill, the Athletics Director at the University of Utah (nicknamed the "Utes" after the local Ute Indian tribe), posted a youtube "chat" where he asked Ute fans to become more "sensitive" to issues that might offend American Indians in Utah and across the country when they attend athletic contests (see below). Specifically, Dr. Hill asks fans to be aware that painting their faces, wearing headdresses, and bringing faux tomahawks to games likely offend sacred and religious traditions of Native Americans around the country. He impliedly asked Ute fans to leave the feathers, headdresses, face paint and tomahawk chops at home.

Dr. Hill alluded to the Ute logo, the feather and drumset, as appropriate, likely based on the approval of the use of the name and logo by the Ute tribal counsel, and the NCAA policy, that while generally forbidding the use of American Indian nicknames and mascots, allows an exception for University use of such nicknames and mascots if the local tribe approves. Because of this exception, Florida State continues as the Seminoles and Utah continues as the Utes, while the University of Illinois and the University of North Dakota are no longer able to use Native American imagery as their logos or mascots.

While laudable, Dr. Hill seems to miss the broader point that American Indian imagery and caricatures remain significantly injurious to some American Indian citizens (though some polls indicate that Native Americans are split on the issue of mascot offensiveness). If offensive to some, then why continue the use of the mascot name and imagery? Certainly, University of Utah fans can become more sensitive by educating themselves and leaving American Indian regalia at home on game day. Dr. Hill himself mentioned educating himself on the sacred and spiritual in American Indian culture, which no doubt prompted the message to fans. Still, tradition and culture should not support the continued use of names and mascots that offend.


Rather than ask fans to be more sensitive, why not just ban the use of sacred or traditional tokens and rituals at the stadium? Or better yet, why not select a new mascot? Hundreds of other high schools and colleges have done so with much success.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/29/2012 10:55 AM  

I watched the video. Thanks for posting. Given the nature of the subject matter, the medium of the outreach (YouTube), and the tone and sincerity of the A.D., I don't see how any reasonable person could not appreciate the effort the A.D. made to demonstrate sensitivity to the issue by asking fans to respect the university and its nickname without resorting to the use of stereotypical imagery. If someone really has an issue with imagery, don't give FSU a free pass. The Seminole tribe is split on the issue, yet a Caucasian Chief Osceola and the white horse Renegade still march to the center of the field in Native American regalia....and a flaming spear!

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/29/2012 1:18 PM  

I agree with you that athletic must have good environement including their safety measures. Raz Silberman says "give your employees purpose -- make them essential to your growth and show your appreciation for their accomplishments. Money buys a lot of things, but it doesn't buy success."

Anonymous High Salaries Yield Mediocre Results in Sports and Business -- 8/30/2012 9:53 AM  

I am a Utah alum (2005) and I honestly can't remember any wide-spread use of Indian garb (as it were) at sporting events. Maybe one or two headdresses, but never any tomahawks or Indian-style face painting. The mascot is an eagle, as well ( I'm not familiar with other teams, but the old stereotype of violent, scalping indians doesn't really exist at Utah, at least from my anecdotal experience

Blogger JC -- 9/02/2012 10:30 PM  

While I admire the spirit of the post, I think it fails to consider the entire perspective of this debate. No matter what the issue is, some section of the population is going to be offended.
In this case we have the Ute Tribal Counsel who has approved of the use of the mascot, the administration of the school encouraging respectful representation of the tribe's traditions, and a school that has formed its own traditions around the use of the Ute logo.
My point is this: I think people are quick to assume a disrespectful and hurtful representation of tribal groups. It is my opinion and hope that, when done appropriately and with the consent of the governing tribal body, schools like Utah can help shed light on the traditions of native American people while continuing those the school has formed in the past.

Blogger atk001 -- 11/30/2012 2:52 PM  

There are three Ute Nations surrounded by the State of Utah while the other Ute Nation is surrounded by the State of Colorado. The University of Utah only has one Ute Nation that has approved the use of the Ute name. All it takes is the other three Ute Nations to pass resolutions to ban the use of the "Ute" name. The Seminole Nation struck a deal with Florida State University to let their tribal members enroll at FSU tuition free (How many Seminole tribal members are enrolled at FSU? 0.01% of the tribal population). Wearing faux traditional attire is in it self is taunting, demeaning & disrespectful to the religion and culture of all traditional native medicine men & women whether these ignorant people realize it or not. Schools receiving federal funding are not suppose to support or contribute to violations of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in addition to violations under Title VI. How do fans of high school & college teams violate Title VI? By creating an environment that is hostile (posters, t-shirts, banners) towards American indians...signs that say "Scalp those Chiefs" or "Save a cowboy, Kill an Indian." These types of signs or cheers leads to discrimination. It happens all too often when "your" not looking. Then when we bring it to "your" attention-it never happened just there were no witnesses. Our great-grandparents endured the hate. Our grandparents endured the pain. Our parents live with the shame. We are witnesses to this historical trama. Our children will undoubtedly see history repeat itself.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/16/2013 10:46 PM  

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