USA Today recently ran a series of graphics with the logos of all five teams with Native American mascots.

All five teams that appropriate the Native American image for their mascot (the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chicago Blackhawks) have in fact adjusted their logos over time.

The graphs show how the logos have more or less evolved over time--like the Cleveland Indians' phase-out of the clown-like visage of Chief Wahoo, in favor of the letter “C,” in a blocky red type.

The chart makes it glaringly evident that these teams have a major branding problem: Their storied icons are offensive, but they can’t veer too far from them or they risk abandoning traditions that fans hold dear.

Does it suffice? Not according to the National Congress of American Indians deputy director Robert Holden. "The team still owns the mascot or logo. Without a meaningful dialogue with Native peoples that includes tribal officials, Native educators, and others, these “changes” are disingenuous at best," he says.

The Unwavering Racism Of Native American Sports Logos

The Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chicago Blackhawks have a branding problem: racism.

Antagonism over Native American mascots has stirred up again, thanks to the recent "de-chiefing" movement. Cleveland Indians fan Dennis Brown took a stand against the team’s racist logo by posting a picture on Twitter of his jersey, sans the Chief Wahoo emblem. A flood of #DeChief tweets followed in support, and along with it came backlash—aimed at Brown—from diehard fans.

The logo, not Brown, is at the center of the imbroglio. This year, the Ohio team began to phase out the clown-like visage of Chief Wahoo, in favor of the letter "C," in a blocky red type. The use of Native American mascots for professional sports teams is one of the industry’s most controversial talking points, on par with steroid use and football helmets.

The Cleveland Indians' move tacitly responded to its critics while it also recreated its logo as a throwback to the Indian’s blue "C" logo from 1915 to 1927. All five teams that appropriate the Native American image for their mascot (the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chicago Blackhawks) have in fact adjusted their logos over time. In light of the #DeChief movement, USA Today recently ran graphics with all the logos, used by all five teams, over the years.

The chart makes it glaringly evident that these teams have a major branding problem: Their storied icons are offensive, but they can’t veer too far from them or they risk abandoning traditions that fans hold dear. You can see where they often toe the line: Look at the Brave's logo from 1953 to present. In the 1950s (when the Braves were still in Boston), the baseball team had a cartoon chieftan, with tomato-red skin, as their logo. In 1957, they introduced the new Native American logo, the "screaming Indian," again, with red skin. In 1966, the mascot got a more realistic brown skin tone. By 1990, the face was gone, replaced by the tomahawk still used today.

By hedging around the issue, with less blatant imagery, the Braves held on to their name. Does it suffice? Last year, the National Congress of American Indians issued a report on racism in sports (and 10 years prior, they launched a campaign that cast other cultural stereotypes in a similar light). When asked for comment, NCAI deputy director Robert Holden points out that the supposed neutrality of the newer logos—even just the letters—is actually subjective.

"The team still owns the mascot or logo. Without a meaningful dialogue with Native peoples that includes tribal officials, Native educators, and others, these 'changes' are disingenuous at best," Holden tells Co.Design. "They certainly have not communicated a willingness to broach the subject with Native peoples. That gives reason to think that they are not voluntarily going to change, and believe that their PR and branding team can get away with what they may think is a more benign form of racism and stereotyping."

[Image: Chicago Blackhawks via Photosthatrock / Shutterstock]

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60 Comments

  • Barb Munson

    Race-based Indian stereotyping has been shown to be harmful to American Indian children in numerous double-blind studies in social psychology. In 2002 Dr. Stephanie Fryberg's research started the ball rolling on studies showing the impact of race-based Indian stereotypes on Native children and the differential effect on Euro-American children. This is chilling. Our society must stop teaching children that we tolerate racial stereotyping. We can choose many options that harm no living human being.

  • Barb Munson

    Race-based Indian stereotyping has been shown to be harmful to American Indian children in numerous double-blind studies in social psychology. In 2002 Dr. Stephanie Fryberg's research started the ball rolling on studies showing the impact of race-based Indian stereotypes on Native children and the differential effect on Euro-American children. This is chilling. Our society must stop teaching children that we tolerate racial stereotyping. We can choose many options that harm no living human being.

  • Alex Schöner

    I've always felt uncomfortable about these logo. But I'm curious why The Seattle Seahawks Logo wasn't brought up in the article as an example of how to incorporate Native American Art in an empower way and not in off-putting way?

  • This is one of the more ridiculous articles I've ever read. I agree with Tim Johnson, these are meant to inspire a team and rally its community. What's next? The Fighting Irish? The Vikings? Or, if you're from the South, the Yankees?

  • Renate Jakupca

    The 'People Not Mascots' Logo is meant to be a Native American protest caricature of the racists Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians Baseball team. It was originally painted by David Jakupca at the historic ARK in Berea incorporating elements of the Theory of Iceality on Environmental Arts, it has drawn criticism from some sportswriters, fans and local businessmen, but gained immediate acceptance among humanitarian, religious groups and Native Americans. It gained international popular attention when it was it exhibited by ICEA at the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, Austria and has become one of the most recognized anti-racists logo's in existence. It also caused repercussions for the groups connected with using the logo in protest demonstrations and this has been documented in the INTERNECINE MATRIX.. Reference Links: INTERNECINE MATRIX http://theicea.com/page21

  • Tim Johnson

    Okay, this is so stupid. People don't name things they love after things they hate. BRAVE is not an insult. Neither is CHIEF, BLACKHAWK or WARRIOR. These are COMPLIMENTS, people.

    So let's just get rid of all of these symbols of native Americans and soon there won't be any record they even existed. Is that what they want?

  • I'd like it stated that the Chicago Blackhawks are named after a single man that has a significant impact in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and even Minnesota. He's often looked upon as a heroic figure. Many businesses carry his name; Blackhawk Bank, Blackhawk propane, Blackhawk construction, Blackhawk College. The military even has a helicopter nicknamed after him. So I think it's a little off to put this team named after a man, who actually did look rather formidable, to a broad racial term like the Redskins.

  • I think it is far to simplistic and naive to use a broad brush and claim the use of these symbols is racist (defined as "The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races").

  • Yeah, I think this whole racism in sports logos is a bit over the top. Yes some used to be pretty damn offensive (redskins, I mean that is pretty bad). But the Braves? the Blackhawks? So what if they have nothing to do with the sport, or even the correct location those groups are from. I don't see anything wrong with some, blackhawks logo is respectful and badass, shows a baddass dude in profile. How could you be offended? what if it was a ninja? is that racist? Get over it guys.

  • Joel Emmett

    For comparison, the state-owned Florida State Seminoles offer free, full-ride scholarships to all members of the Seminole tribe. Free degrees from a major university.

    What are these for-profit companies doing for native Americans?

  • Bun Thomas

    You leftist Liberals are all the same. You preach tolerance, but can't live it. Try to teach fairness, but sure can't show it. You twisted losers have taken institutions (sports teams and logos) that have been around longer than you could decide what gender you want to be. You continue (like the article's author) to PROMOTE racism. Not by discussing the issue, but only allowing one side of it. Teams having a "branding" problem? It's nothing but dumb jocks hitting (and now kissing) each other.

    You libs would take away freedom of speech today if you were allowed to. Donald Sterling isn't a racist--- his is simply a dumb old man saying really dumb things. Hey libs-- were is the tolerance for Sterling??? Racists are those that claim naming a team after real Americans is hurting their people. Branding-- really? You libs need a life and stop whining about everything that is good and wholesome about this country.

  • Jeff Caldwell

    I don't get your point? We did stupid stuff many years ago so that makes it ok? We should never change it even as our level of awareness and education is raised? Would you be happier if we made the names more racist? "Washington Black Skins" perhaps? Or the Chicago Nazis? We should correct our mistakes as we move forward as a society, if you were someone who has lived with racism I'm sure you would have a different opinion.

  • Bun Thomas

    I grew up in the military and I didn't know what racism was until we moved back to the USA. With your logic, we need to remove the words yellow, black, and red from the English language. I ask again, where is the tolerance from you haters? I just witnessed a commercial on ESPN advertising a blacks only online dating service. That's OK I guess.