Former American Indian Leader Rips Florida State’s Mascot Tradition As “Savagery”

  • Glenn Davis

Russell Means still sounds angry. Sure, this column by The State’s (S.C.) Ron Morris, detailing the former American Indian Movement leader’s frustration with the way schools like Florida State depict his people, says he “used to be angered” by things like the Tomahawk Chop and the FSU mascot’s pregame ritual of throwing a spear into the ground while on horseback. But to hear Means tell it, he doesn’t sound too pleased to this day.

The “Seminoles” nickname, he’s okay with. The rituals? Not so much:

“The depiction of a wild savage riding willy-nilly on horseback with a spear and stabbing it in the ground conjures up savagery. (Seminole Indians) didn’t have lances. They had short hunting bows. But they damn sure didn’t utilize horses or spears, and they didn’t utilize paint. They didn’t paint their faces.”

Also, while Means implies he’s mellowed out, he doesn’t sound that way for long:

“When I was younger, [stereotypes] brought up rage. Rage. I wanted to knock some heads together. Of course, I refrained from that. Now, we’re the only entire ethnicity in America that is still stereotyped.”

One would think that last comment would encounter some arguments from members of other minority groups. I, in my whiteness, will refrain from such…and also say that yes, there’s a lot of American Indian stereotyping still going on in sports logos/mascots – the fact that there’s still a team called the “Redskins” is actually pretty amazing; the fact that Chief Wahoo still exists in any form, even more so.

Morris, for his part, sounds pretty upset himself:

[W]here I really get lost with Florida State is all the symbolism that surrounds the use of the nickname. I find it particularly sad that a university of higher learning endorses such racist behavior as face-painting, war chants and flaming spears.

And means directs his disappointment at more than just Florida State:

“You would think once (the Seminole Tribe) got economic independence with their casinos, that they would have some modicum of self-respect. But I guess becoming rich capitalists doesn’t equate to self-respect. One only has to look at Wall Street to see that.”

I don’t feel qualified to take much of a stand on all this, except for one thing: the “Seminoles” name isn’t bad; it’s a specific tribe. Even Morris and Means don’t take issue with that aspect. But if you’re going to frame the name as a tribute to “a noble, brave, courageous, strong and determined people,” as, according to Morris, former Florida State president Dale Lick called the Seminole tribe, then get the facts right. Because if Seminoles didn’t use spears, didn’t ride horses, didn’t paint their faces, then it’s hard to call this much of a tribute at all.


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