Agonizing over Sports Teams’ Mascot Names

I have written several columns on current controversies involving the apparent offensiveness of the Washington Redskins’ nickname, the most recent of which was published by the Washington Times. A later contribution to the same debate, by Hayley Manugia at FiveThirtyEight, finds 2,128 such American monikers, all of which should be equally offensive to people who don’t like references to “Braves”, “Warriors”, or “Seminoles” to characterize the athletic teams that compete on football fields, basketball courts, or any other sports venue. Most of the Indian nicknames in question have been adopted by high schools.

As a matter of fact, the women gymnasts who represent the University of Utah prefer to call themselves the “Red Rocks” rather than be associated with the “Utes”, which is the school’s nickname in football, basketball, and other male sports. It is my understanding that the University of Utah has entered into an agreement with current representatives of the Ute tribe to continue using that nickname in return for promises of scholarships earmarked for members in good standing of that Native American tribe.

I therefore see the controversy as a way by which Native Americans can seek compensation for studious opposition to anything smacking of political incorrectness. I have not seen opposition to Alcorn State University’s use of the nickname “Braves”. ASU is a historically black college or university (HSBCU), which obviously gives pause to the critics of American Indian monikers.

The controversy is all about rent seeking, in which tribes of Native Americans want money in return for authority to adopt their customary tribal names. As one of the commentators on my column in the Washington Times wrote, that debate would go away if only the Redskins won more games on the field than the team lost.

William F. Shughart II is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University, past President of the Southern Economic Association, and editor of the Independent book, Taxing Choice.
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