Adidas announces initiative to change high school mascots


Photo Courtesy of firebrandal/Flickr Indians fans perpetuating Native American stereotypes.

Photo Courtesy of firebrandal/Flickr
Indians fans perpetuating Native American stereotypes.

Nov. 5, 2015 marked a small beginning of a new civil rights movement. Adidas has announced an initiative nationwide to help high schools eliminate Native American mascots. This Change the Mascot initiative states Adidas, a global sports apparel company, will provide financial assistance for design resources for any high school wishing to change their mascot or nickname.

The announcement also coincided with the Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. President Obama announced this conference would allow 567 federally recognized tribes to each send a representative to discuss and build the relationship between Native American people and Alaska Natives with the U.S. government. This conference would emphasize the Native American youth opportunities currently available.

In addition to the nationwide initiative, Adidas also released a statement on their website that announced that they would be a founding member of a new coalition to look at the issues of Native American imagery and mascots within sports in general. This initiative would be executed to help eliminate prejudices and find solutions. The LA Times reported that currently over 2,000 U.S. schools across the nation have Native American nicknames for their teams, which troubles Native communities nationwide.

President of Adidas Group North America, Mark King, said in the company statement it is important to ignite and inspire change at a young age so the entire world of sports can break racial barriers.

“High school social identities are central to the lives of young athletes,” King said. “So it’s important to create a climate that feels open to everyone who wants to compete. But the issue is much bigger.

These social identities affect the whole student body and, really, entire communities. In many cities across our nation, the high school and its sports teams take center stage in the community and the mascot and team names become an everyday rallying cry.”

While our Univesity of San Diego Torero is not a Native American mascot, this campaign is still important to students on campus. 

Junior Jayda Gonzalez is the  American Indian and Indigenous Students Organization president here at USD. She believes early education and a nationwide awareness is necessary to break these in place racial stereotypes.

“It’s important to get the youth working as closely as they can with the local native people,” Gonzalez said. “Teaching them how to confront stereotypes, educating students and athletes to understand why it is offensive, many people don’t think Natives exist anymore. We do blend in, people are so used to thinking we’re in a headdress on horses. Students nowadays have no idea they’re going to school on Native American lands and that those lands were probably taken.”

According to a release by the Associated Press, head of Adidas Global Brands Eric Liedtke, who was in attendance at the Tribal Nations Conference, believes the company’s intentions are steering the athletic world in a new and better direction.

“Today’s announcement is a great way for us to offer up our resources to schools that want to do what’s right,” Liedtke said. “To administrators, teachers, students, and athletes who want to make a difference in their lives and in their world. Our intention is to help break down any barriers to change, change that can lead to a more respectful and inclusive environment for all American athletes.”

Many tribes and Native American activists have argued for years that Native American images, mascots and nicknames perpetuate negative stereotypes that are harmful to communities and affect both Native and non-Native students. One of the most popular examples of the struggle of this fight can be seen with the on going battle between Native activists and the NFL team in Washington D.C., the Redskins.

With the issue finally gaining attention, the last four years have witnessed eight high schools dropping their  “Redskin” mascot, according to a report in The Huffington Post.

In Oregon, where the Adidas headquarters is based, a law passed in 2012 forced high schools in the state to change any Native American mascots without explicit tribal permission. Last October, California governor Jerry Brown signed and enacted a law that bans high schools from using a Redskin as their mascot.

Gonzalez, being a Native American student herself, does not personally find the term Redskin offensive, as she believes it is outdated. She thinks the term may have lost its severity. However, she does take notice of the ignorant behavior of fans at the games.

“Personally, I’m not offended by Redskins name,” Gonzalez said. “The term has historically been offensive. What I don’t like is the fan behavior that’s provoked by the name. All of it is so insensitive to traditional costume, song, or spiritual ritual. It’s completely inappropriate what fans believe they can do, it encompass all the stereotypes. They’re not even true portrayals of who we really are.”

Gonzalez also pointed out the traditional headdress and face paint motif has become very antiquated.

“I’m Native [American] and I don’t even wear that,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t feel comfortable enough. I don’t even know all the history behind the headdress. Not all tribes are the same so not all Indians are the same.”

Despite the strides this program might be making, the problem of enforcing racial stereotypes is still prevalent at the college and professional level of sports. According to Fox Sports, as early as 2005 the NCAA threatened universities would face sanctions if they did not change Native American logos or names.

Colleges including Florida State and Utah have managed to hold on to the “Seminoles” and “Utes” because they had received permission from the local tribes to use those names.

Great controversy still surrounds the issue of the Washington Redskins. Some view Adidas’ initiative as a major breakthrough, while others claim it is hypocritical to only focus on the high school level where there are no real profits at risk.

According to the LA Times, Washington’s NFL team spokesman Maury Lane holds this latter viewpoint. Lane does not believe Adidas is legitimately dedicated to the Change the Mascot campaign.

“The hypocrisy of changing names at the high school level of play and continuing to profit off of professional like-named teams is absurd,” Lane said. “Adidas make hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors, while profiting off sales of fan apparel for the Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves, and many other like-named teams.”

This issue affects students, fans, and all Native American people nationwide. With all the rising tensions in Detroit, Missouri, Alabama, and Mississippi, it is surprising that professional sports teams still promote and profit from a marketed racial slur.