Native American imagery in sports has been a controversial topic for a while. No need to rehash all the details here; any sports fan (and/or Native American kid who’s taken a social inequalities class and actually listened instead of just cruising to a B-, etc.) knows enough about it by this point. Not only is the topic controversial, it’s also complex.
“Well, w-what exactly is racist?” ask nervous, well-meaning white people.
There are obvious examples, like basically everything about the Washington Redskins, and the Chief Wahoo logo worn by the Cleveland Indians. It’s hard to argue that a racial caricature that looks like it could be a cowboy’s dimwitted, moon-fearing sidekick from a 1950s cartoon isn’t understandably offensive. But what about milder representations of Native Americans, like the Braves and the Chiefs? Is showing a tomahawk, a spear, or an arrow offensive? It’s not as if it’s some sort of wildly inaccurate historical exaggeration about Native Americans to associate the tribes with those tools. They used those things. Yes, one could argue that other non-violent, Native American themed imagery could be used to represent those teams, as well. But, then again, you don’t exactly see teams called the Knights with mascots sitting at a round table, discussing feudal land distribution, or Irish mascots that are sober and reasonably tempered (and as an Irishman, I don’t even want to see the latter – a sober Irishman strikes fear into no one).
What about teams, both college and pro, that invoke the actual names of tribes, such as the Illini, the Blackhawks, and the Seminoles? The answer to that question, and pretty much every other related question (even the Redskins issue, according to one Native American who wrote an excellent piece for Deadspin you should definitely read) is “Nobody fucking knows.”
Nobody knows because these questions are nearly entirely subjective and disagreed upon, even within all the different Native American communities. One Native American site, Indian Country, however, is fairly certain they’ve found some cut-and-dried sports racism in the form of Rowdy Gentleman’s Florida State BCS Championship t-shirt, specifically in the caption at the top of the shirt, “Scalp ‘Em.”
Among the bevy of fan merch, one specific T-shirt has FSU officials rushing to see that it is discontinued.
The T-shirt, marketed as a “Florida State University 2013 National Champs Vintage Tee,” and manufactured by RowdyGentlemen.com, has the words, ‘SCALP ‘EM!,’ emblazoned across the chest. Below the text is an arrow and tomahawk.
That looks pretty bad. “Scalp ‘Em” could certainly invoke negative imagery about Native Americans. That might have been an unfortunate, insensitive misstep on our part. What were we thinking? Why did we even think to say something like “Scalp ‘Em”!?! I wonder what Florida State officials have to say…
Liz Maryanski, vice president for university relations, told Indian Country Today that on January 10, FSU officials began measures for an “emergency cease and desist” of all sales of the offensive T-shirt.
“We would never license that shirt,” Maryanski said. “That term is extremely derogatory and it’s offensive.”
Florida State would NEVER celebrate a wildly offensive term like “Scalp ‘Em”! Like their VP of University Relations, who presumably is quite the expert on all things Florida State, said, “Scalp ‘Em” is derogatory and offensive. In no way, I’m sure, was that hypocritical knee jerk appeasement on her part. Wow. I need to go think about what we’ve done here, now that even FSU itself has called us out. Give me a moment, guys. I’ll have my secretary play some hold music for you while you wait.
Okay, I’m back. What did my secretary play? Ed Sheeran? She’s got a weird thing for that ginger. Wait, what!?! She played the Florida State fight song? That was topical of her. Hold on! Are those the words “Scalp ‘Em” in the official Florida State fight song?!?!? B-b-but I thought the term was offensive and derogatory?!?! FSU would NEVER promote those words!
Well, okay, let’s be fair. That’s an antiquated song with antiquated lyrics. It’s not as if the FSU fanbase actively promotes the term “Scalp ‘Em”.
Oh…shit. Well, that’s Twitter. Sure, yes, students can say whatever they want, but what we know for certain is that, despite those lyrics being grandfathered in, and despite “Scalp ‘Em” clearly being a popular unofficial slogan for FSU, the actual university would NEVER, EVER promote the term “Scalp ‘Em,” let alone try to make money off it, say between $400 and $600 a pop.
Well, this is just getting awkward. It’s as if everything I once knew is crumbling around me…
Maybe Liz Maryanski, VP of University Relations, just wasn’t aware that her university promotes the term “Scalp ‘Em,” let alone attempts to make a fair amount of money off it, when she called our product offensive and derogatory, instead of, you know, “completely in line with the merchandising policies of Florida State University.” I mean, she probably should have been aware, but she wasn’t. Because OH WELL! FUCK IT! We’re the assholes, you guys.
Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, told Indian Country Today that the tribe is confident that FSU will make sure the shirt is discontinued.
“They (FSU) move quickly and effectively to do what needs to be done,” Bitner said, adding that the tee is a “terrible shirt.”
“It’s too bad that in 2014 we still see this kind of image and stereotypical presentation,” he said.
“The relationship between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe is one of mutual respect,” he said.
I know, right?
And it totally came from us here at Grandex, and not at all from the institution this story and everyone involved is defending and deflecting for. If you don’t like the shirt, that’s fine, that’s your right, and I don’t even necessarily disagree, but at least know what in the fuck you’re talking about. None of these people do, and it’s a joke.