6. Mascot Controversy 1971-72
Dr. George Fathauer
Dr. George Fathauer, a professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Miami University, met with Miami President Phillip R. Shriver in December 1971 and shared articles written by Native Americans about the racist nature of Indian related sports mascots. Fathauer suggested that the University abandon its use of the name Redskins along with all of the related symbolism. Dr. Shriver, a renowned Ohio historian, argued that any derogatory stereotyping was unintended, but he was very willing to consider the legitimacy of the complaints made by the articles Fathauer brought him. (photo by George Hoxie)
Shriver consulted the Athletic Advisory Board and that body’s general belief was that the use of Miami University's Indian symbols, “if produced and used as authentically and as proudly as possible, can be truly honorific and not in any sense derogatory.” Their final suggestion indicated that a nickname change would need to be made by a vote of the student body.
Dr. Fathauer chose to use this real life example in his Indians of North America class and the student reactions to the issue represented both sides of the argument. The class concluded that information should be given to the student body through an article in The Miami Student. Fathauer argued for a student to write that article, but the class preferred that a faculty author be the first to present this controversy to the general student population. One student offered his help in moving the school toward abandoning the use of Redskins.
Letter to the Editor
In the April 4, 1972 edition of The Miami Student, Fathauer’s letter to the editor, Redskins and Hiawabop: Racism at Miami (PDF) appealed for the elimination of the use of the term Redskins and the appearances of the sideline Indian dancing character Hiawabop. Fathauer agreed with the Athletic Board that Miami University had never intended to derogate Indians. However he pointed out that “this is one of the most pervasive aspects of racism; the dominant group is not even aware that its stereotyping is objectionable to a minority.”
Do Away with Redskins
The motivated student from Fathauer’s class was the roommate of the President of the student body and he took this idea forward to Student Senate. Three days later (April 7, 1972) the Student Senate voted unanimously to abolish the use of the term Redskins and to remove all Indian caricatures that had previously been used by Miami University. This resolution was forwarded to the Student Affairs Council for their consideration. SAC minutes of May 31, 1972 indicate a “spirited debate” occurred before a motion was passed with three specific recommendations: 1) to abolish the use of the term Redskins because it was derogatory; 2) to no longer use caricatures, cartoons or other images in reference to the term Redskins; 3) to no longer use any Indian as a mascot. The vote was 19–2 with four abstentions. The recommendation was then sent to President Shriver.
In the meantime, immediate response to Fathauer’s letter appeared in several ways. Ten days later, April 14, 1972, The Miami Student editorial, A Matter of Conscience, endorsed the action of Student Senate and suggested that “Miami students, who years ago created the Redskin nickname, are in 1972 in the position to correct this slur on the Indian heritage.” Several other letters to the editor appeared for the remainder of the school year representing both sides of the argument.
It must have been difficult for President Shriver to balance the differing opinions of Athletic and Alumni Affairs staff and fans with the position taken by one of the institution’s standing committees. As a result, on June 22, 1972, Shriver appointed an Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate the University’s Identification with the Miami Indians and with the Use of the Term Redskins and asked that their report be submitted back to him by September 1, 1972.
The committee membership included two faculty members (one was George Fathauer), one administrator, the Director of Alumni Affairs, the Director of Sports Information, a student government officer, and a former student who had performed as the Indian dancer while at Miami. The committee was presented with two specific concerns:
- In what ways are the current University practices demeaning to the culture and heritage of the Miami Indian Tribe and to the American Indian in general?
- In what ways can the University retain an appropriate identification with the Miami Indian Tribe while simultaneously pursuing a course of national leadership in providing educational opportunities for deserving American Indian students and generally enhancing our community’s understanding and appreciation of this people’s heritage and present needs?
Native Leaders’ Opinions
As part of the information gathering of the Ad Hoc Committee, Indian leaders were solicited for their personal opinions about the Indian mascot issue. Two letters with differing opinions appear in the Committee report and the papers of George Fathauer.
Appendix A-11 of the Ad Hoc Report is a letter dated July 21, 1972 from Forest D. Olds, Chief of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, which states, “I find no objection to the use of Redskins if it is not used in a derogatory manner. Of course, I don’t see where Redskins pertains to Miamis only, to me it covers all Tribes.”
The second letter arrived too late to be included in the Committee Report, but was sent by Dr. Fathauer to President Shriver and Ad Hoc Committee members in March 1973. LaDonna Harris, President of Americans for Indian Opportunity, responded “The naming of sports teams in ‘honor’ of Indians is racist . . . Scholarships designated for Indian students—perhaps a Miami—seems more appropriate if honoring Indian people is the intent.”
The final report comments on this situation specifically. “The committee came to realize that the Indian community is badly divided on the subject. It can be argued that since the leaders of the Miami Indians do not oppose our use of the word Redskins, then there is no problem. However, the appellation Redskins does not refer only to Miamis, but has reference to Indians in general.”
A turn of events transpired later that summer with the unexpected campus visit of Miami Tribe Chief Forest Olds.
The final Ad Hoc Committee Report included two separate minority reports, plus nineteen appendices.
1. Two major issues received majority approval:
- Retain the term Redskins (favored 5–2)
- Eliminate the dancing Indian Hiawabop (favored 6–1)
2. Several changes were unanimously approved:
- Eliminate all derogatory caricatures of Indians
- Encourage elimination of derogatory items sold in local stores
- Change the student eating area’s name in the student union from Redskin Reservation to just RES
- Insist that all Indian dress and activities must be authentic, dignified, and in good taste
3. Place more emphasis on Indian heritage, displays of Indian art, and Native American scholarships.
4. A system must be devised for continuous evaluation of these issues.
As the 1972 football season opened, several outcomes from the Ad Hoc Committee were implemented. The use of the term Redskins continued. Hiawabop, the dancing Indian with the marching band, was eliminated. A new scholarship, the American Heritage Scholarship was created to encourage Native students, preferably a Miami Indian, to enroll at Miami University.
Several ideas were developed to depict more authentic, dignified images. Later arrangements were made to commission a painting of a Miami Indian from which evolved the Indian Head logo that became a prominent symbol for Miami University.
An Indian sculpture, commissioned by Pi Beta Phi sorority in recognition of their 1967 centennial and Miami University's 160th year, was created by Miami Art Department chair Robert B. Butler. A photo of the sculpture appeared on the cover of the May 1969 Miami Alumnus and was described as “a lifesize Indian sculpture in war-dance attitude atop a boulder.” The sculpture was placed on display in Millett Hall, Miami’s basketball arena. A silhouette of this sculpture became the new athletic image of Redskin by late 1972 and early 1973.