is older than it's ever been and now it's even older


Orange Bowl Special Edition

Tonight is the Orange Bowl between the Florida State Seminoles and the Oklahoma Sooners. I was thinking about the mascots involved and realized there's a bit of synergy between the historical and sporting terms used.

The Seminoles are a tribe of Native Americans originally local to north Florida and south Georgia, and one of the tribes called "Civilized." That designation was used to describe those Native tribes that readily adopted agriculture and other aspects of Euro-American heritage. Nonetheless, the Seminole were different even from the other four "civilized" tribes in that they accepted runaway slaves as members, and also because they stayed and fought, rather than peacefully, if not voluntarily moving. One of the most famous chiefs of the Seminole was Osceola, who probably wasn't even a Seminole by birth, but led a long lasting guerrilla campaign against the US army. This site has a synopsis of the Seminole wars, which lasted for thirty years and ended with attrition of the Seminole down to low levels, and not the outright surrender and removal to the designated reservation spot, which just happened to be in the Indian Territory that is now Oklahoma. I especially like that site because it has the color of horses listed for the various soldiers in platoons.

So that's who the Seminoles are named for. The use of Native American iconography and names for sporting mascots has been an issue that has gotten a lot of press recently. Most schools (including the U of Oklahoma) have eliminated native American mascots in recent years, but not Florida State. In fact, Florida State has initiated a fairly large PR campaign to rehabilitate their use of the Seminole name, and more specifically their on-field mascot, who just happens to be named Osceola. On the FSU fans page there is a message from a past Florida State president that acts as an official apology (original definition) for the use of said imagery, and among the justifications is that they consult with the Seminole tribe for only the most authentic clothing:

Over the years, we have worked closely with the
Seminole Tribe of Florida to ensure the dignity and
propriety of the various Seminole symbols we use. Chief
Osceola, astride his appaloosa when he plants a flaming
spear on the 50-yard line, ignites a furious enthusiasm
and loyalty in thousands of football fans, but also
salutes a people who have proven that perseverance
with integrity prevails.

Nonetheless, most Native American activists are not impressed:

Whereas the perspectives expressed are moving, they are nonetheless rhetorically and contextually
empty. To project dignity, honor, respect, strength, and pride onto a manufactured image while
simultaneously displaying an inability to accord those very same things to living Indians seeking to
be heard speaks volumes about just how great the level of miseducation is on this topic.

That being said, it does seem bizarre to me that the OU mascot is the Sooner. Few good webpages out there offer a good definition of a Sooner. Sooners are land thieves. Prior to the land runs (there were five of them between 1889-1893) white settlers who snuck into the land rush areas to stake claims early were Sooners. Why the University or State would want to memorialize a time of widespread lawlessness and enshrine it is beyond me. Moreover, the synergy between inappropriate mascots grows when one considers that the land being stolen belonged to Native Americans, and partially to the Seminoles, some of whom relocated to the central part of the state of Oklahoma.

The other name often associated with our athletic programs is "Boomer," as in Boomer Sooner, the extremely bizarre and stupid fight song. The Boomers were those agitating to steal the land from the native inhabitants. Again, not something you'd want to memorialize.

When one criticizes Native American mascots and iconography for sports teams, you often hear the statement "how would you like it if the Washington Redskins were the Washington Crackers?" Guess what, guys. The Sooners are that derogatory white name. In fact, tonight, when the Sooners battle the Seminoles, the white land thieves will battle the savages. Makes your head spin. I'm not even going to go near the fact that both teams are made up with a majority of African Americans in vastly majority white universities. Why do I like college sports again? Go Sooners. Final irony: due to sideline space considerations, neither side's offensive mascots will be allowed in the stadium.


Post a Comment

<< Home