When you see it coming — the tomahawk chop, the chant, the white guy riding in wearing war paint and a ceremonial headdress, waving a war lance – don’t you wish you could close your eyes and ears?
With the excitement surrounding tonight’s BCS National Championship game between the Florida State University Seminoles and the Auburn University Tigers, most of mainstream America will once again fail to see the “diss” that Florida State fans have been dishing out to Native Americans for generations.
Indian Country might have to follow former Arizona State University star Jim Warne’s lead: Keep the remote handy and press mute when appropriate.
The NFL Alumni member and inductee into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame knows the Seminole Tribe has negotiated with the State of Florida and the university over rights to use the name and imagery, but that doesn’t make the chop or the chant any less derogatory. Native Americans have opposed FSU fans’ behavior for years.
“I’ll be watching the national championship on Monday,” said Warne, who played left tackle for Arizona State University, and helped to pave the way for the Sun Devils’ victory over the Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan Wolverines in the 1987 Rose Bowl.
“The Seminole Nation negotiated with the state of Florida and made agreements with the university to use their name. But that doesn’t stop the Auburn Tiger fans from saying ‘Kill the Seminoles!’,” Warne told ICTMN. “I’ll have to mute the national championship a lot because it just gets tiring with people exploiting the name and the mascot. Americans feel it’s acceptable to mock Indian people through that forum and it would not be allowed for other ethnic groups.”
Warne was called “Chief” by his teammates throughout his Arizona State playing days. Although the nickname is derogatory in nature, he always knew his teammates were coming from a place of respect.
“I didn’t let just anybody call me that,” he said. “We had a Hispanic player we called Pancho. We were okay with the nicknames in the locker room, but outside of the locker room, it wasn’t okay.”
He took his son Ryan to a San Diego State football game and they saw an “Aztecs” mascot.
“He said, ‘Dad, there’s an Aztec.’ And I said, ‘No,son, that’s a white guy doing a very bad imitation of an Aztec. I’m sitting there wanting to be a fan and having to explain cultural inappropriateness [to my son].”
Sports Illustrated did a story on Warne in 1991 entitled “Urban Indian.” He was finishing up his career in NFL Europe when a writer noticed his long flowing locks hanging well past his shoulder pads.“There was this story how there was a blond-haired Indian playing in NFL Europe.” which was totally erroneous,” Warne said. “The article was all done by phone and the story was saying ‘his waist-length hair.’ I’m like – I never had waist-length hair. [Sports Illustrated] sent me to New York City to get the photo done. At the time, I was still single and I wanted to look good, but they wanted the mean, stoic Indian, because that’s what America expects.”
Native Americans have been dealing with stereotypes, and inappropriate labels for centuries. Warne hopes that that will soon change.
“I don’t see anybody from other communities protesting that they’re not mascots. Why don’t we have the Blackskins, Whiteskins, Brownskins and Yellowskins included? Black Elk — after the Wounded Knee massacre — said it was going to take seven generations to heal the circle. I’m a firm believer that one of those from that generation will be president of this United States. And, that’s my dream.”