Have you ever wondered how universities and sports teams get their athletic mascots? Or how the hell Syracuse University’s mascot is an orange? Today there are many teams out there with mascots or names that refer to Native American groups. Some of these include the Washington Redskins, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, University of Utah Utes, and University of Syracuse’s old mascot, the Orangemen. In 2004 Syracuse University changed their mascot to the Orange after being called the Orangemen. Supposedly this change was due to the fact that it was considered a racial slur and insultive to Native Americans. Native American mascots and names are an acceptable thing to have in sports teams because they honor the Native Americans past and many Native Americans today do not find any of these mascots insulting.
There is a long history of how this bizarre mascot named Otto came to be. Prior to Otto, Syracuse athletes were called the Orangemen and Orangewomen. It has been said that it switched to just Orange because there were some disagreements whether this name was insulting to Native Americans. However, one Syracuse University online news site has an article written by a student that talks about the mascot change. In this article there is nothing that says the mascot was changed because of racism towards Native Americans. The main reasons for this change in mascot was because with the Orangemen, the school had no unity. The men’s teams were called Orangemen, the women’s teams were called Orangewomen, and each sport had some variation in colors and style of their uniforms (Janela). With this piece of evidence it would be incorrect to say that Syracuse University’s old mascot, the Orangemen, was changed for racist reasons.
The Orangemen referred to the group of Native Americans that lived in the northeast part of the United States. This group of Native Americans were called the Iroquois. The six tribes that are part of the Iroquois confederacy are Cayuga, Onondaga, Mohawk, Tuscarora, Seneca, and Oneida. The Cayuga tribe, along with all the other tribes apart of the Iroquois confederacy, originally lived in what is now present-day New York State. Cayuga means “The swamp people” while the onondaga tribe means “people of the hill” (Reddish). The Onondaga tribe had their own language they used to speak but today, many speak English. The Mohawk tribe referred to themselves as The Kanienkehaka, meaning “people of the flint”. Also, the Seneca tribe called themselves “The people of the mountain” meaning Onandowaga in their own language. The Oneida tribe called themselves Anyota’aka, which is the “people of the standing stone”. Skarureh comes from the tribal name Tuscarora. It means “hemp people”. All of the Iroquois tribes may seem similar from an outsider’s perspective with their similar homes and native lands. However, each tribe has their own language and slightly different clothing styles. As one can see, the Native Americans in the north west area of the United States referred to themselves as many different things. With all of the different names for themselves why would they take offense from ones from the name of a sports team? Through long debates and tough decisions, some names including Syracuse University’s are officially changed, while others continue to spark disagreement.
There are many other sports teams out there right now that still have mascots referring to Native Americans. For example, the Washington Redskins refer to a Native American group called the Piscataway. The Piscataway was considered a nation of Native Americans who dominated the Washington D.C. area around the Chesapeake Bay. They mainly spoke Algonquian, which is a dialect of Nanticoke. Unlike neighboring groups, Piscataway Indians relied heavily on agriculture to maintain a stable society. Some of the crops they depended on were corn, melons, and different types of squash. Without these crops, the Piscataway Indians would not have been able to survive through a growing society.
A poll done by the Washington Post claims 9 out of 10 Native Americans do not feel that the word
“redskins” is offensive. Therefore, if ninety percent of Native Americans do not see the name Redskins offensive then why would it even be considered trying to change the mascot? Orangemen is very similar to Redskins, so one could conclude that Native Americans do not take offense to that mascot as well. To bolster that this finding is not just a recent change of mindset of Native Americans, Annenberg Public Policy Center found the same results in a poll conducted in 2004. These two polls tell us that Native Americans have not taken offense to mascot names in the twenty first century. On top of that the owner of the Washington Redskins stated, “The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect and pride” (Snyder). In the owner’s eyes the name “Redskins” is honoring the history of the Native American’s living in the Washington area. Native Americans don’t want to just be forgotten, he sees his team’s name and other mascots with Native American references as respecting and honoring the Native Americans past of living in North America. After all the Native Americans were here before we were.
For example the Kansas City Chiefs is a name that refers to Native Americans The Kansas City Chiefs is a politically correct name that does not use any racial slurs to degrade any group of Native Americans. Not to mention, they are a really good team who just recently beat the Patriots in their season opener. However, in 1622 this outcome was not the same for the chiefs against the patriots in the fight over territory in North America.
With the combination of the poll done by Washington Post and the article written by a Syracuse University student, it should become clear that the change of the Syracuse mascot was highly unneeded in the sense to protect the Indian’s feelings. There are a lot of mascots that still continue to refer to Native American groups who had previously lived in the areas of the team or college. Instead of choosing arguments and fighting to resolve the problem, people have the option of compromise and contributing both ideas. Coming to an agreement may cause some people to be unhappy; however, satisfying the majority is more important than worrying about a few people who disagree.
Article by Ryan Carpenter and Ryan Rogers
Redish, Laura. “Cayuga Indian Fact Sheet.” Facts for Kids: Cayuga Indians (Cayugas), Bigorrin, 2015,
Lewis, Orrin. “Onondaga Indian Fact Sheet.” Facts for Kids: Onondaga Indians (Onondagas), Bigorrin, 2015,
Reddish, Luara. “Oneida Indian Fact Sheet.” Facts for Kids: Oneida Indians (Oneidas), BiGorrin, 2015,
Reddish, Luara. “Tuscarora Indian Fact Sheet.” Facts for Kids: Tuscarora Indians (Tuscaroras), Bigorrin, 2015,
Lewis, Orrin. “Mohawk Indian Fact Sheet.” Facts for Kids: Mohawk Indians (Mohawks), Bigorrin, 2015,
Reddish, Luara. “Seneca Indian Fact Sheet.” Facts for Kids: Seneca Indians (Senecas), Bigorrin, 2015,
Cox, John Woodrow, et al. “New Poll Finds 9 in 10 Native Americans Aren’t Offended by Redskins Name.” The
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Janela, Mike. “Syracuse Changes Nickname, Logo.” Daily Orange, 3 June 2004, dailyorange.com/2004/06/syracuse-