They were not borne out of racism. Many were borne out of historical notions of masculinity. By the 1930s, the rugged cowboy and Indian imagery associated with the American West had become synonymous with stoicism, fortitude, bravery and resilience. Sports teams used these names, not to deprecate, but to tap into tap into this imagery and symbolism.
For example, the Atlanta Braves originally assumed their name for these reasons. The team began in Boston as the Boston Braves in 1911. James Gaffney, the club’s president, was a member of the Tammany Hall political party, which had sourced its name from Tammamend, a renowned and respected Native American chief from the Delaware Valley.
The Tammany Hall political party adopted the headdress as its logo and its supporters became known as the Braves. For the aristocratic Bostonians, the Braves and its link to democratic values resonated more than the Doves, the team’s former name.
Not all teams’ Native American names and logos were borne from racism. Some were borne out of respect and the desire to pay homage to the Native American histories of the region. To dismiss all Native American team names and mascots as offensive overlooks this poignant fact.