The US has a dismal record in its treatment of Native Americans, and some of the offensive and racist stereotypes that developed decades ago remain entrenched in mainstream culture. Colorado’s Lamar High School, for example, has come under fire recently for its team name, the Savages, represented by the image of a generic Native American in full headdress.
Adidas wants to help change that. The company announced that it will offer its design services, and even financial assistance, to US high schools that want to change their identities away from potentially hurtful Native-American symbolism. According to the company’s statement, some 2,000 high schools in the US could fit that description.
It may seem an odd move, given that the company isn’t even US-based—it’s German—and that sportswear seems to have little do with the fraught world of US cultural politics. But maybe it’s not too big a stretch when you consider that sporting events are where these high-school mascots become most visible.
The announcement also coincided with the White House Tribal Nations conference, during which US President Obama met with leaders from the 567 federally recognized tribes to discuss issues that affect the country’s tribal communities. Obama commended Adidas for the move. “One of the top brands in the world is prepared to come in and use all their expertise,” he said. “I really want to give them a lot of credit.”
Obama took the chance to add in a jab at Washington’s own controversial sports franchise, the Redskins. “I don’t know if Adidas made the same offer to a certain NFL team here in Washington,” he said. “But they might want to think about that as well.”
The Washington Redskins, whose owner has insisted he will never change the team’s name, were well aware of Adidas’ project. As NPR reported, they put out a statement attacking it before Obama made his comments, saying its hypocritical when Adidas makes “hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors, while profiting off sales of fan apparel for the Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves and many other like-named teams.”
On the other hand, Change the Mascot, an organization that advocates for sports teams to change their Native-American imagery, applauded Adidas. “This is a tremendous display of corporate leadership by Adidas,” it said in a statement (pdf). “It is inspiring to see that Adidas has chosen to be on the side of inclusivity and mutual respect and has set an example for others to follow.”