University of Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig, a sophomore on the nation’s fifth-ranked college basketball team, is not a fan of sports mascots that depict Native Americans.
Koenig, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, slammed names like “Redskins” and other mascots in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this week, saying that he is “disappointed” that such mascots are still in use and feels that they make “people think it’s OK to make fun of us.”
“And when a Native American kid sees that growing up and sees the disrespect, it lowers their self-esteem and puts them in a lower place in society. It’s just not a good feeling,” Koenig told the Journal-Sentinel’s Jeff Potrykus as part of a longer story on Koenig’s impact as a Native American athlete (via The Big Lead). “It’s honoring them? It’s not racist? How are you going to say that when you’re not a Native American?”
On Washington’s team, which has faced increased challenges to its continued use of “Redskins” as a nickname, Koenig was even harsher.
“That term comes from when we were skinned and our flesh was red,” he told Potrykus. “I don’t see how that is honoring us in anyway. Is our skin red? Would it be OK for the Kansas City Negroes or the Blackskins? That’s not OK at all.”
Koenig, whose mother is Native American, is among the most prominent Native American athletes in major college sports, where Native American mascots became early targets for activists seeking to change them. Schools like Stanford, Marquette, Dartmouth, and Oklahoma began dropping official and unofficial names and mascots that depicted Native Americans as far back as the 1970. The NCAA in 2005 instituted a policy to prohibit its schools “from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery” at any postseason events, a change that applied to 18 universities with Native American mascots and imagery. Many have changed names or mascots since, though some still exist. One of Wisconsin’s Big Ten counterparts, the University of Illinois, still uses “Illini” as its nickname but quit using its Chief Illiniwek mascot in 2007, a controversial decision on the campus.
As Koenig noted, opponents of such mascots argue that they perpetuate harmful stereotypes of Native Americans that exacerbate problems facing those communities. Both the American Pyschological Association and American Sociological Association have called for eliminating such mascots for that reason.
Other prominent Native American athletes have also spoken out against the Washington name. Professional golfer Notah Begay III pulled his foundation’s sponsorship of a charity golf tournament last April when he learned that the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, started by owner Daniel Snyder, was the lead sponsor of the event.
“I don’t think if a similar racially offensive word was used for the Hispanic, African American or Jewish communities that it would be tolerated,” Begay, who is Navajo, Isleta Pueblo, and San Felipe Pueblo, told USA Today at the time. “But because the American Indian people historically have not had much political leverage, or because we don’t represent a great amount of buying power from a retail standpoint, we don’t get the same level of treatment that everyone else in this country gets.”