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Racial imagery/mascots in professional sports: an American legacy
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American sports teams at all levels have a history of employing racial imagery and mascots as a trademark, nickname, logo and for general marketing and merchandising purposes. Through the past decades some organizations have changed their name and image, some have altered it to be more general and some have not changed it in any way. There have at times been surges in controversy and demand for a name and logo change for certain organizations but not necessarily as much for others. Ultimately, while the causes for the perpetuation of this reality are varied and debatable, one factor that remains concrete is the willingness by the media to cover and essentially promote these brands. As professional sports franchises are large, for-profit businesses, their ability to garner free press on a near-daily basis has allowed perpetuation of their branding and product identity in all cases – including those in which racial names and/or imagery have been utilized. Print media has traditionally devoted and continues to devote entire sections and staffs to what are ultimately privately-owned businesses that rely on brand identification for capital gain. The media may have at times commented on the branding itself, but the fiscal nature of the exchange between the two entities, and the subjective factors of fan loyalty and civic tradition, have complicated the issue into a deadlock which, despite occasions of cultural calls for change, is often only broken when financial or legal pressure is applied. As will be discussed, in many cases a newspaper’s editorial board – in particular the Washington Post – has made a declarative statement against use of a racial name and image while its news and sports sections continue to employ the same, often with no explanation, or simply stating that it is using the name and image as they exist without bias. This thesis will do the following: examine the use of such imagery and names in the professional sports sector, specifically the “Big Four” conferences in the United States/Canada (being the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association); discuss the general history behind why certain organizations made a change and why others have not; synthesize responses from the minorities depicted in such imagery; synthesize responses from sports media and academic sources; examine whether this practice in general should be abolished; examine the ways in which abolishment could be realized; examine how both the media – primarily print – and the leagues in question have perpetuated this practice; detail why the usage of such mascots/imagery – and essentially all mascots/imagery of any kind – are unnecessary for the purposes of team/brand identification and reportage; and ultimately conclude that the practice must desist at all levels for both logical and humanistic reasons. Due to the nature of the names and mascots in questions, the majority of my research pertains to the use of Native American nomenclature and imagery. The main focus of this thesis will be on the last five years, as that has seen two major changes and a rising of social engagement and protestation, but will delve further into the past when relevant.