This weekend, during the preview for the college football game between Florida State University and Clemson on ESPN’s College GameDay, actor-comedian Bill Murray delighted a crowd of students by selecting Clemson to win the game. Moments later, ESPN analyst Lee Corso entered the set dressed as FSU mascot Chief Osceola, and danced around for several seconds, holding a staff covered in yellow, red and white feathers. Murray, pretending to be a pro wrestler, then “body-slammed” Corso and hurled the staff into the crowd. (See the video here)
ESPN declined on Sunday to comment about the incident.
The FSU tradition, which some members of the Seminole tribe have called a “minstrel show.” dates back to 1978: A man dressed up like a tribal 'chief' named Osceola (né William Powell), rides out onto the field at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on a horse before home games and throws a flaming spear into the ground at midfield while the crowd goes wild.
The tribe officially sanctioned FSU's use of Seminoles as a nickname and Chief Osceola as a mascot. In 2005, Max Osceola, the chief and general council president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said that it was an 'honor' to be associated with FSU. In the past, some members of the Seminole Indian Tribe have supported the mascot—according to the university, Seminole women designed the Chief’s costume.
But even if FSU's use of the tribe's name is not supposed to be disrespectful, this skit by ESPN put the tribe's identity out there for the public to misuse.
Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic agrees. “Here's how it works,” he wrote. “ESPN defends the actions of its on-air talent by pointing to the FSU tradition and its GameDay tradition. FSU, in turn, defends itself by claiming that some members of the Seminole tribe support the "Osceola and Renegade" show (even while other members of the tribe call it a "minstrel show.") And a whole new generation of college students learns the lesson that it's okay to denigrate Native American traditions and symbols—to think it's all great fun and a big joke.”
This incident comes in the midst of the heated debate about the Washington Redskins name change. Daniel Snyder, the team’s owner, has refused to change the team’s name, despite Native American groups, such as the National Congress of American Indians calling the name offensive and derogatory.
"This is a perfect example of how Native Americans are ridiculed in the course of sports entertainment. Good-natured rivalries are one thing. Wearing the native equivalent of black face is quite another,” said an NCAI spokeswoman of this weekend’s FSU incident. “The Eagle Staff carried by Mr. Corso and thrown into the crowd by Mr. Murray is as sacred symbol of leadership and today is used to honor our Native veterans who have served this country. That it was used as a prop in this mockery and shown such disrespect is proof that our heritage and culture are not honored or respected by the slurs and caricatures used by sports teams.”