Story at a glance

  • Sports teams in the United States have historically used racist tropes, especially based on Native peoples, as mascots.
  • While many agree with teams that recently decided to change their names and mascots, plenty of sports fans don’t see a problem with the racist imagery.
  • Most Americans, however, understand that there is limited representation for Native Americans in media outside of sports.

Since the Black Lives Matter movement reignited a national discussion on racism last summer during the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed Indigenous people in the United States, the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Baseball Team have caved in to long standing demands to change their racist mascots. 

“Sports fans want more from the teams they love—beyond watching their favorite teams play their best, fans want their teams to represent their values. The racial reckoning in the U.S. has created a greater awareness, and sports fans expect their favorite teams to stand up for underrepresented communities and take a stand against cultural appropriation of Native Americans,” Nielsen Sports Managing Director Jon Stainer said in a release


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While many fans agree with the change, 51 percent of fans still feel using Native Americans as mascots is an honor and 53 percent of fans want more education on why these changes are happening, according to a new Nielsen survey. Native American communities and activists have been outspoken in their criticism of Indigenous people and culture being objectified as mascots. 

“Native Americans are the only group being used as sports mascots, depicting our Native American communities not as people, but as ‘other’. It’s dehumanizing and objectifying," said Pawnee Nation member Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and CEO of IllumiNative, in the release.


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When broken down individually, however, roughly two-thirds of MLB and NFL fans agreed the appropriation was harmful, with NBA fans coming in last at 58 percent. And while female fans are growing in numbers, more than half of men surveyed agreed on the harm done by appropriation, while just 40 percent of women did. 

More than half of the respondents also acknowledge that Native representation outside of team names and logos is minimal: just 0.27 percent of screen time, according to the survey, for more than 2 percent of the country's population. 


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Published on May 17, 2021