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Hundreds Of Schools Are Still Using Native Americans As Team Mascots 

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In the summer of 2020, public tolerance for companies advertising with racist images was at an all-time low. Brands including Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Uncle Ben’s all announced plans to change their product imagery and in some cases even their names in reaction to widespread public protests against anti-Black racism. The world of sports wasn’t far behind.

After decades of activism and protest against the Washington NFL team’s longtime use of a widely recognized racial slur against Native Americans, change seemed to come swiftly. While owner Dan Snyder had once declared to the media that he would “NEVER” — “use caps,” he told the reporter — change the moniker, it took less than 24 hours after corporate sponsors threatened to pull out of their deals before the team announced it would “review” the name, and 10 days later the team committed to changing it.

Indigenous people have been advocating against the name for years: Amanda Blackhorse, one of the movement’s leaders, was among five Native Americans to push for the cancelation of Washington’s trademark, a drive that initially won a court battle in 2014 before a Supreme Court ruling in a different case rendered the previous Washington decision moot. The crux of their argument is simple: Native mascots dehumanize Indigenous people by employing disparaging stereotypes of Native Americans that cause real harm. This claim has been repeatedly supported by research, and the causes of that harm extend far beyond the Washington football franchise. Condemning the commercial use of an obvious racial slur is the lowest-hanging fruit. But are teams ready to confront the names, symbols and associated behaviors that haven’t been so universally criticized?

Native mascots exist in every level of sports, from high school basketball courts to billion-dollar stadiums. While high-profile teams like Washington and the Cleveland Indians may come to mind first, most Native American mascots are used in secondary schools. Although the number has been shrinking, there are currently 1,232 high schools with Native American team names, according to my analysis of data from MascotDB. That includes 411 Indians and 107 Chiefs or Chieftains, and there are still 45 schools that bear the former name of the Washington Football Team.

To arrive at those numbers, I pulled Mascot DB’s full list of Native-associated team names and logos and reviewed them all. I researched any potentially ambiguous team names and weeded out any that did not directly reference Native culture or imagery — for example, teams called the Warriors were excluded unless they also pictured an Indigenous person or use imagery like feathers — and removed any teams that had changed their branding since they were added to Mascot DB. The remaining 1,232 schools, then, are just those that clearly reference Native culture in their name or logo.1

High schools are governed locally by districts and states, making oversight difficult and consistent regulations unrealistic. Although clashes over the future of Native mascots are likely happening at schools in every state, top-level guidance has been minimal. In my research, I found just four states — California, Maine, Oregon and Wisconsin — that have either laws or department of education policies that to some degree prohibit using Native mascots in public schools. However, it’s possible that this list may soon expand: In reaction to the renewed public interest in Native mascots, proposed legislation could force the removal of these mascots in Illinois and Massachusetts. Lawmakers have also begun discussions in Nebraska, and Washington.

These regulations vary widely. Maine’s comprehensive law, which was signed by Gov. Janet Mills in May 2019, states that public high schools and colleges in Maine “may not have or adopt a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual, custom or tradition and that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name of the school.” Meanwhile, California’s 2015 law disallows using the Washington Football Team’s former name or logo and bans schools from buying new equipment featuring that branding, but it allows them to continue using existing equipment until it wears out. Essentially the state is hoping that current uniforms and stadium decorations will be retired in the coming years.

These kinds of policy moves also tend to face strong pushback. In January, a proposed resolution to remove Native mascots failed by a landslide in the Wisconsin Association of School Boards delegate assembly, with 101 in favor and 218 against. In Utah, Republican state Rep. Rex P. Shipp introduced a bill that would discourage the removal of names, images and symbols of Native Americans from schools; it has yet to be voted on.

Similarly, Tennessee passed a bill in 2007 protecting Native mascots. In reaction to pressure from the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs to ban Native mascots, the state legislature passed a bill that stated that “no state agency has the authority to require or to prohibit or impair in any way the right of any public or private institution to continue to honor certain persons or cultures through the use of symbols, names, and mascots.”

Even laws on the books have proven ineffective. Wisconsin passed a law in 2010 that triggered a review of a school’s logo or mascot if a single person filed a complaint that it was offensive, making the state one of the first to take action to phase out Native mascots. Yet in the wake of resistance from one affected high school, former Gov. Scott Walker signed a new bill in 2013 that substantially weakened the previous review process. The new law shifted the burden of proof from the school itself to those lodging the complaint, and it required a petition with signatures from the equivalent of 10 percent of the district’s school population. A new effort to ban Native mascots was quashed by the state school board this year.

The case against these mascots isn’t always cut and dried. Of the 1,232 high school mascots in the Mascot DB, 23 are in use at tribal high schools — those operated or funded by the Bureau of Indian Education. These schools, which are often on reservations or near Indigenous communities, primarily serve students who identify as Native American. Their mascots go by many names, including Indians, Apache Chiefs and Braves. Schools not associated with the Bureau of Indian Education may also have genuine ties to Native culture and community, so the number of schools who serve Native students and use a Native mascot is likely more than those I was able to identify.

For these schools, the conversation around Native mascots is about authentic representation rather than appropriation. These students and communities are harnessing Native mascots to honor their own identities and heritage. The traditions that many consider racist when imitated by non-Native athletes and fans take on a new meaning in Indigenous spaces. Currently, about 2 percent of Native mascots are used at tribal high schools.

Yet the business of allowing exceptions for schools like these can be tricky — just ask the NCAA. The governing body of collegiate sports intensified conversations about Native mascots in 2001, the same year the organization banned states that fly the Confederate flag from hosting national championship events. After several years of discussion, the NCAA Executive Board voted unanimously that Native mascots must go, declaring that teams with “hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery” would be prevented from hosting NCAA championship events and required to use equipment that didn’t display that imagery in championship games.

Facing intense backlash after the 2005 announcement, the NCAA agreed to hear appeals from universities vying to keep their Native mascots. In a nod to Native sovereignty, the governing body allowed tribes to endorse schools that used the names of their tribes, but it rejected appeals from names using general descriptors like Indians, Redmen and Savages. In some cases, the NCAA allowed nondiscriminatory monikers to remain as long as all references to Indigenous people and their traditions were removed. Bradley University kept its Braves name and introduced a non-Native mascot, Kaboom the Gargoyle, in 2014; the College of William & Mary retained “the Tribe” as a nickname but stripped a pair of feathers from its imagery and adopted a griffin as a mascot in 2010.

Five institutions — the Catawba College Catawba Indians, Central Michigan University Chippewas, Florida State Seminoles, Mississippi College Choctaws and University of Utah Utes — successfully appealed the mandate on the basis that their institutions had the support of a local Indigenous tribe. Yet this policy masks the complex politics of Indian Country. Histories of forced removal and trends toward urbanization call into question who can speak on behalf of a tribe and its people. For instance, only a single band of the Seminole tribe — the band that resides in Florida — supports Florida State University’s use of the Seminole mascot. According to the NCAA, one is enough.

For most institutions, there was no path forward. The University of Illinois was allowed to keep its Fighting Illini moniker, but without the support of the Peoria tribe, it was required to retire its Chief Illiniwek mascot.

The NCAA’s top-down policy was effective, if hotly debated. Schools were given three years to change their mascots, and by the end of that time period, many had done so. If high schools moved to the same appeal model as the NCAA, the number of schools with a Native mascot would decrease substantially. If professional sports joined in, the number of national franchises would likely dip to zero.

Gabriella Trujillo

Rather than follow the NCAA’s example or try to get ahead of state legislation on the issue, the NFL has stayed silent on the topic of Native mascots. While the media has focused on the Washington franchise and its scramble to rebrand itself, the executives in Kansas City are busy polishing their Lombardi Trophy and dodging the inevitable question: Are we next?

They’ve received no public guidance from the NFL on the matter. But that silence isn’t specific to pro football. Over the past several decades, professional sports leagues have been noticeably quiet as their embattled teams defended the sanctity of Native mascots on the grounds that they are an athletic tradition. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred waded deepest into these troubled waters in 2018 when he said the league had “encouraged dialogue with the Indians organization about the club’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo.” This dialogue eventually ended in the announcement that the racist image would be removed from Cleveland uniforms the following season, although the team would still sell merchandise with the caricature.

On Aug. 20 of this year, the Kansas City Chiefs issued a statement announcing a new set of policies that prohibited certain fan behaviors and costumes at games, including wearing headdresses and face paint that references Native people or culture, and promised a continued partnership with local American Indian organizations. By the team’s own admission, this conversation with Indigenous partners has been going on since 2014 — and prior to its most recent statement, results had been limited.

Although the positive steps taken this summer may seem momentous, professional sports leagues had been relatively stagnant on this issue overall. Prior to announcement that the Washington Football Team would eliminate Native imagery in its name and logo, MLB, the NFL and the NHL together had five franchises with Indigenous names2 and two more that use Native-inspired logos or imagery — the Seattle Seahawks and Vancouver Canucks. (In addition, the Phoenix Coyotes continue to use their original logo, which has well-recognized Native influences, on home throwback sweaters.) Each team is navigating relationships with local Native American and First Nations people independently. While some teams have successfully incorporated Indigenous people into conversations about inclusion and representation, others continue to swim upstream in a constant search for endorsement.

Why are teams so reluctant to let go of their Native mascots? Research has repeatedly shown the mental harm that these icons inflict on Indigenous people, and tribal leaders continue to speak out against teams’ disrespect and appropriation. Finally, in 2020, it seems that broader public opinion might be catching up. Football fandom, perhaps, has not.

Financial implications are certainly a factor. But that can cut both ways, as the Washington Football Team’s refusal to change its name eventually led its sponsors to threaten to withdraw financial support for the franchise. In fact, while economists who studied the financial implications of franchise rebranding have shown that teams may take on additional costs in the first year — including paying lawyers to secure the rights to a new name and logo and changing the branding on merchandise, signage and the stadium itself — they could recoup those deficits in the ensuing seasons.

When the Chiefs secured their first win this season in Arrowhead Stadium in front of crowds limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, headdresses and red face paint were no longer allowed past the gates. The Arrowhead Chop and pregame beating of the drum were under review, although NBC still prominently featured the former in its prime-time broadcast. They scored in end zones declaring “end racism” in block text next to the Chiefs name and near the arrowhead logos. In a year when Washington chose to go by its city name rather than choose a new identity, the controversy over the use of Native mascots will continue to weigh on franchises and fans. As the country celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day in cities like Seattle, Chicago and Kansas City, the pressure to change these names continues, with the teams under an even brighter spotlight.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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