We are supposed to be having a particularly earnest conversation with each other (and ourselves) this autumn about whether the continuing use of the nickname "Redskins" for Washington's professional football team perpetuates stereotypes against Native Americans. Of course it does. If you want to better understand why, if you want to better appreciate the enormity of the problem, if you want a sense of the challenge American Indians face as they seek to fight back against these hoary symbols, watch this clip from Saturday's "College Gameday" on ESPN.
This unseemly episode is the result of two traditions. The first has to do with Florida State University, which has taken the nickname "Seminoles" from the Native American tribe with a long and unfortunate history in Florida. The university's tradition, since 1978 anyway, is to have a man, dressed up like a tribal "chief" named Osceola (né William Powell), ride out atop a horse named "Renegade" onto Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee before home games and throw a flaming spear into the ground at midfield while the crowd goes wild. Here is the list of "Osceolas" (and "Renegades") over the years.
The second tradition has to do with ESPN and this particular show. Each week, Lee Corso, a nationally known college football commentator, dons the garb of the team he is picking to win the feature game of the weekend. Sometimes, Corso wears a mascot head. Sometimes he dresses up. The college kids eat it up. It's great fun and great for the show's ratings. On Saturday, Corso, an alum of FSU, happened to pick his alma mater to beat Clemson (which FSU did, by a lot), which is why he was dressed up like Osceola. (Update: I don't mean to suggest this is the first time he has done this. Here is how he did it last year)
It's nothing personal against Native Americans, ESPN wants you to know. It's strictly business and entirely part of the show's routine. So a white man dresses up like an American Indian "chief," dances around the set like a clown, gets tackled by Bill Murray, the spear gets tossed into the crowd at Clemson, and everyone has a grand old time, including the on-air talent and ESPN's own online tribunes. See, for example, from Saturday afternoon's Twitter feed:
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