Offensive Team Names - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity


Offensive Team Names

As perhaps you've heard, the National College Athletic Association has announced a policy calling for an end to references to American Indians in team names, logos or mascots. They explained that "an inappropriate negative reference was extended to an entire group of people".

Well, you can read their report on the subject for yourself.

My concern is that this policy doesn't go far enough. After all, American Indians aren't the only group that is routinely degraded by insulting team names. As a Norwegian-American, I feel traumatized by the use of team names that insult my heritage. There are at least two teams in the NCAA who use the name "Vikings" (Portland State and Cleveland State).

  1. Viking mascots are racist. No other living national group is identified as a mascot or symbol. Can you imagine the Houston Hispanics, the Washington Whities or the Boston Blacks? No one would think of appearing in black face in 2001, but because of Viking mascots, no one questions appearing in a fake Viking beard or Viking costume.
  2. Use of these mascots creates a hostile environment. By singling out a particular historical group, the university is creating an environment where members of all minority groups can feel threatened. In the heat of sports rivalries, many actions take place that are inappropriate. Norwegians may be hung in effigy or mocked by the actions of opposing teams.
  3. Viking mascots give the public a stereotypical and historically incorrect perception of Norwegians. Such mascots are based on Hollywood interpretations with costumes, dances, and music appropriated from the movies, not history. In reality, Viking raids ended in the Middle Ages.
  4. Using Vikings as mascots has negative effects on children, including low self-esteem among Norwegian-American children and perpetuating anti-Viking sentiment among non-Norwegian-American children. One researcher noted that children in Minnesota were hostile to "real" Norwegian-American children, even telling them that they "couldn't be Norwegian because they didn't look like a Viking."
  5. The helmets, costumes, and dances used by Viking mascots are misappropriations of the helmets, costumes, and dances used by Norwegians in religious ceremonies. These items have religious significance, making it all the more offensive to see them misused and mocked.
  6. If another university activity were to mock a national group university officials would put an end to that activity. The emblems and stereotypical imagery of Viking mascots appear on shirts, banners and even gym floors of universities, thus giving the impression that the university does not find the image objectionable or contrary to its educational mission or diversity policy.

If you think the above is absurd, it's all taken straight from the National College Athletic Association's report on Indian mascots. I've just replaced "Indian" and "American Indian" with "Viking" and "Norwegian", "feathers" with "helmets", and a few other similar adjustments.

In their report, the NCAA apparently anticipated that someone might point out that there are sports teams with names that refer to other ethnic groups and no one seems to be objecting to those. For indeed there are NCAA member teams with names that refer to other ethnic groups, like the Gaels, Highlanders, Spartans, Trojans, and Ragin' Cajuns. The NCAA report only noted the "Fighting Irish" as a possible analogous situation, which they quickly explained away: "Fighting Irish", they solemly informed us, "refers to a nationality, not a race of people, and no ethnic group". Uh, but ... Their report lists as the offensive team names: "Braves, Indians, Warriors, Redmen, Chippewas, Seminoles, Fighting Illini, Choctaws, Fighting Sioux, Aztecs, Chieftains, Utes, Tribe, and Otahkians". Need we point out that of these fourteen, eight, over half -- Chippewas, Seminoles, Illini, Choctaws, Sioux, Aztecs, Utes, and Otahkians -- are nations. Apparently the NCAA believes that Indian nations are not "real" nations like the Irish, because, what?, because they're just Indians? The NCAA apparently sees white nations as clearly different: Irish, Spartans, Highlanders, those are all distinct nations, very different from each other. But Indian nations? They're all the same. I guess they figure that non-whites all look alike. This is called "not racism".

Hey, and why aren't they concerned about the Santa Barbara Gauchos and the San Diego Toreros? Those names are clearly mocking Hispanics. Aren't Hispanics entitled to dignity and respect like Indians?

I really am of Norwegian descent. And curiously, in real life I've never found it offensive to see sports team named after my ancestors. Actually I've found it vaguely complimentary. When a team calls itself the Vikings, I just take it for granted that this indicates that they respect my ancestors enough to want to identify with them. I presume they think of the Vikings as brave and strong and adventurous. If they really hated or looked down on the Vikings, they surely wouldn't be naming the team after them. There is good reason why there are no football teams called "the Ambulance-Chasing Lawyers" ... or the "Self-Righteous Politically-Correct Bureaucrats".

Hey, here's an idea! How about we make a rule that all Indian team names must be replaced with names that clearly refer to groups of while males! Besides Vikings, team names that come to mind are Minutemen, Musketeers, Cowboys, and Kentucky Colonels. Better still, if you want a group that it is absolutely safe to offend and insult, make it explicitly Christian white males. Like Paladin, Friars, Quakers, Saints, or Crusaders. Okay, those names are already taken. But I can suggest Conquistadors, Inquisitors, or even Christian Soldiers. It would be insulting and demeaning, but at least we Christian white males rarely complain about such things.

© 2006 by Jay Johansen


William Mar 12, 2013

I am reading your website about naming sport teams I would like to know where did you get your research from? I am writing an essay about it and I am trying to get more research about it.

Jay Johansen Mar 13, 2013

The article was based on the committee report that led to the NCAA policy against Indian team names and symbols. At the time I wrote the article, which appears to have been May 29, 2006, that report was available on the NCAA web site at However, that link doesn't appear to work any more. I just spent some time searching the web and I can't find a copy of it. I should have saved it when I wrote the article.

You might want to contact the NCAA and see if you can get a copy of the report. It was put out by their minority affairs committee, MOIC. I think it was published in 2003, and it was generally referred to as the "Mascot Report". Blast, as I don't have a copy, I can't even give you the proper title. The policy that followed from it came out in 2006, April I think.

Here are some links to relevant information that might help:

If you do manage to get a copy of the report, I'd appreciate it if you could send me a copy!

Patrick Duffey Apr 11, 2014

I was writing a little article on this issue, but you've touched all the right bases. Thank you for this.

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