Real history behind Native American mascots

USA TODAY Sports asks Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian: Do Native American mascots honor or offend?
USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — Native American team names mean honor and respect. That’s what executives of pro sports clubs often say. History tells a different story.

Kevin Gover punctuates this point with a rueful smile. He is director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. The Capitol dome looms outside the windows of his fifth-floor office as he talks about the historical context of an era when Native American mascots proliferated like wildflowers.

Baseball’s Boston Braves adopted their team name in 1912. The Cleveland Indians took theirs in 1915. Scores of high schools and colleges across the country assumed these and other Indian team names in the 1920s and 1930s, even as so-called civilization regulations forbade Native Americans to speak their languages, practice their religions or leave their reservations.

This meant real American Indians could not openly…

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