It’s easy to oppose the name of the Washington Redskins and call for owner Dan Snyder to change his beloved bigoted brand. After all, it’s a dictionary-defined slur bestowed on the NFL franchise by their arch-segregationist, minstrel-loving founder. When you have Native American organizations, leading sportswriters, Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress and even the president say the time has come to change the name, it is not exactly difficult to get on board.
But what about the Florida State Seminoles, whose football team on Monday night won the Vizio/Dow Chemical/Blackwater/Vivid Video BCS National Championship Game? The NCAA, since 2005, has had formal restrictions against naming teams after Native American tribes, and yet there were the Seminole faithful: thousands of overwhelmingly Caucasian fans with feathers in their hair, doing the Tomahawk chop and whooping war chants on national television. Their passions were stirred into a frenzy by a white person, face smeared with war paint, dressed as the legendary chief Osceola riding out on a horse. As Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated gushed, “Chief Osceola plants the flaming spear in the Rose Bowl. Awesome.” (Osceola was adopted after the school quietly retired their previous Native American mascot “Sammy Seminole.”)
I have been to dozens of Redskins game and have never seen anything close to this kind of mass interactive minstrelsy. Yet there are no protests against this spectacle, no angry editorials and no politicians jumping on the issue. Why is that? Because as any Florida State fanatic will shout at you, the university has “a formal agreement with Seminole Nation” and that makes everything all right. Fans treat this much-touted agreement like they have a “racism amnesty card” in their back pocket. The approval of the Seminole Nation, they will tell you makes it all A-okay. Actually it doesn’t. It doesn’t first and foremost because the existence of this “agreement with the Seminole Nation” is a myth.
The agreement is with the Florida Seminole Tribal Council and not the Seminole Nation. The majority of Seminoles don’t even live in Florida. They live in Oklahoma, one of the fruits of the Seminole Wars, the Indian Removal Act and The Trail of Tears. These Oklahoma Seminoles—who, remember, are the majority—oppose the name. On October 26, 2013, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma’s governing body passed a resolution that read in part, “The Seminole Nation condemns the use of all American Indian sports team mascots in the public school system, by college and university level and by professional teams.”
As for the Florida Seminole Tribal Council, it is the owner of a series of luxury casino hotels throughout the state where the Seminole “brand” is prominently on display. The Tribal Council also bought the Hard Rock Cafe for $965 million in cash in 2006, which thanks to the Seminoles’ “first-nation status” now also offers gambling in its Florida locales. Hard Rock corporate called this “the perfect marriage of two kindred spirits.” Seminole Nation Hard Rock Hotel and Casino T-shirts are available for purchase.