This year has called on us to respond with unprecedented creativity to unprecedented challenges. We’ve had to use the platforms we have to think big, make bold statements, and create rapid change. That’s why I was so heartened last week to see players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) take their position and influence seriously. After a police officer shot yet another black man — Jacob Blake — seven times in the back, players refused to take the court for their playoff games. Then they met, formed a plan, and got buy-in from team owners and the league to use NBA arenas as polling places and voting centers in November.
Unfortunately, no other American pro sports league approaches the NBA’s level of social justice awareness. Just weeks ago, after years of pressure, Washington, D.C.’s pro football team finally announced it would change its name from the most offensive in all of sports. But sports mascots and branding appropriated from Native culture are still all too common. This includes the Superbowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and baseball’s Atlanta Braves. Please sign and share our petition to change offensive sports mascots and branding, and watch my video about why it’s so important.
So many people watch and participate in sports, on every level from little league to the pros. Offensive team names, mascots, and logos impact all of us from a young age. Minor league baseball teams and college programs — like the Florida State Seminoles, whose fans often display the offensive “tomahawk chop” in stadiums — are guilty, just like the pros. A long time ago, I did all I could to help change my own alma mater’s nickname from the North Dakota State Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks. Now I can be proud of my school.
These symbols rely upon stereotypes which demean Native culture and have real, negative effects on Indigenous children. Their continued existence perpetuates bullying and alienation.
Now, the NBA has shown a new way for sports to approach social justice. And the players’ solution — making voting in black and brown communities easier — is wonderful. On that subject, I urge you also to read about our effort, in concert with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and two members of Congress, to pass the Native American Voting Rights Act. We stand in solidarity with the NBA players. Let’s increase turnout from communities of color, this November and beyond. Our voices must be heard!
Wopila tanka — my gratitude for your continued action!
Chase Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project