US & Canada

Adidas push to end 'racist' Native American mascots

A player dressed in the Washington Redskins uniform prepares to throw an American football Image copyright AP
Image caption The Washington Redskins have used their Native American mascot since the early 1930s

Sportswear company Adidas has announced that it will offer free design resources to US high schools that agree to drop Native American mascots.

The company has also offered to help pay for the costs of the changes.

The pledge comes on the same day President Barack Obama is hosting leaders from the 567 federally recognised native tribes in Washington.

The use of Native American mascots and symbolism in sports is at the centre of a national debate in the US.

Critics say such imagery is racially offensive and it exploits native people through stereotypes.

According to advocacy groups, there are approximately 2,000 schools in the US that have Native American mascots.

Over the past two years around 12 have dropped the mascots and about 20 are considering a change.

The Washington Redskins debate

  • More and more journalists are refusing to use the name
  • Word was first used by Native Americans, to distinguish themselves from Europeans
  • It became a derogatory term much later, in the 19th Century
  • Fans today are divided on the subject

Should the R-word be banned?

The sports company, which will have executives in attendance at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, has also said it will be among the founding members of a coalition that seeks to change Native American mascots in sports.

The initiative would give schools wanting to change their mascot access to the brand's design team, who would provide logo and uniform design services.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Advocacy groups estimate that there are 2,000 schools in the US that have Native American mascots

"This remarkable stand against racism by Adidas illustrates that the issue of ending the use of the R-word is not going away, but is instead gaining momentum as people understand the damaging impacts of this racial slur," said Jackie Pata and Ray Halbritter, leaders with advocacy group Change the Mascot, in a written statement.

The Washington Redskins, the professional American football team located in Washington, has resisted changing its name and logo despite increased criticism in recent years.

"We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER - you can use caps," said the team's owner Dan Snyder, in an interview in May 2013.

Supporters of the mascots point to long traditions and say that they highlight the contribution of native people to American society.

In 2005, the governing body of university-level basketball warned teams that they would be subject to penalties if they did not change Native American mascots.

In response, some of the teams, including the Florida State Seminoles, were granted permission to use the names and imagery by tribes.

Life as a young Native American

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Media captionBBC Pop Up: Life as a young Native American in South Dakota

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