By: Mark Fitzgerald
ALL NEWSPAPERS SHOULD follow the lead of the Portland Oregonian and stop printing American Indian sports team nicknames, the Unity ’94 convention of minority journalists declared in Atlanta.
The resolution, proposed by the Native American Journalists Association, puts all the major associations of journalists of color on record in favor of excising media references to such team names as Redskins and Braves.
It asks news organizations “to officially discontinue the use of Native American and other culturally offensive nicknames, logos and mascots related to professional, college, high school and amateur sports teams.”
In addition to the NAJA, the Unity coalition includes the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association.
Unity board members, who approved the resolution July 27, said eliminating “offensive” team names on the sports pages is analogous to eliminating bigoted stereotypes in news coverage.
“We feel that the use of racist and demeaning representations should be eliminated,” said Lloyd LaCuesta, a Unity board member. “While news organizations are starting to heighten their awareness on this issue, for too long sports coverage has been an exception.”
The resolution urges news organizations to adopt the style practiced by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Under those guidelines, no published reference is permitted to “Redskins and the derivation ‘Skins, Redmen, Braves, Indians, Tribe and Chiefs.”
The current Star Tribune stylebook says tribal names ? for example, the Seminoles of Florida State University or the Chicago Blackhawks pro hockey team ? are O.K. for now.
“At some point,” the stylebook says, “we may choose to reconsider the use of tribal names. In the interim, we will delete the ‘Fighting’ designation when used in front of tribal names.”
Leaders of the 500-member NAJA had pushed hard for the resolution. For instance, a workshop titled “How does it feel to be a mascot?” was held under a banner that read, “INDIANS ARE A PEOPLE Not Mascots For America’s Fun & Games.”
Providing further impetus was the fact that the convention, which attracted 6,000 people, was held in the middle of a long home stand by the Atlanta Braves baseball team. The team has drawn particular fire from Native American activists for its name, its tomahawk logo, the “Tomahawk Chop” cheer and a pseudo-Indian war chant that fans intone during games. From time to time, too, the team revives its mascot, “Chief Knock-a-Homah.”
Vernon Bellecourt, an Anishinabe who heads the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, also confronted publishers at the Unity gathering’s opening session with the demand they stop publishing Indian team names. Bellecourt got, essentially, no response.
“I’m just glad New York’s team is the Yankees,” New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said.