The most important Super Bowl ad you didn’t see

Some issues are complex. Nuanced. Gray.

For me, this one isn’t.

This 2-minute ad called “Proud to Be” takes the seemingly complicated issue of Indian sports mascots and distills it with remarkable clarity.

At roughly $4 million per 30-second slot, this ad never had a chance of making the airwaves during Super Bowl XLVIII. But you should watch it anyway.

Created by the National Congress of American Indians, the ad touches on the rich history of Native American communities. It mentions iconic figures like Sitting Bull, Hiawatha, Jim Thorpe, and Will Rogers. It highlights many aspects of Native American identity: Proud. Forgotten. Survivor. Mother. Father. Son. Daughter. Underserved. Struggling. Resilient.

“Native Americans call themselves many things,” the narrator concludes. One thing they don’t call themselves, however, is Redskin.

Yes, the Washington Redskins’ mascot has been around for more than 80 years. Yes, it would be costly to change it. (After all, the NFL is just your everyday 501(c) nonprofit, right?) No, Washington’s football team isn’t the only one with a controversial Indian mascot that needs changing.

But these are diversions. Excuses.

A friend of mine who shared the video on Facebook asked what I think is the one question that really matters:

Would you feel comfortable calling a Native American this name to their face?

Assuming the answer is no (and it should be), isn’t that an implicit acknowledgement that the term “Redskin” is racist?

Then why do almost 80 percent of Americans think the Redskins should keep their team name? Is it because we don’t like asking difficult questions? Because we never stop long enough to view the issue from someone else’s perspective?

Of course, changing a team mascot won’t end the problem of racism. It won’t address every grievance that Native Americans have or right every wrong that’s been done to them. In reality, a name change seems like a drop in the bucket when it’s weighed against our country’s history of injustice, discrimination, displacement, and outright slaughter of Native Americans.

As far as changes go, this one is more symbolic than structural. But symbolic change still matters. It can still make a difference. It sends a signal that some things are no longer OK. (Not that they ever were.) It’s like a signpost directing us to a different path — one it’s well past time we took.

The only potential downside to changing Indian team names is if someone thinks that doing so will automatically eliminate racism, much like some people thought electing a black president meant we had overcome our troubled history of slavery and segregation. It’s only one step in the journey. But it’s an important step… and it’s time we took it.

2 thoughts on “The most important Super Bowl ad you didn’t see

  1. I’m white. Raised a Christian. First people of any color seen close up – the Marines. First TV shows – cowboys and Indians. First perception of American Indian history – from all the above, I guess. Not until I took things into my own hands, picked my own books, made my own friends, spent time getting to know the people whose history the books tried to explain, did I have even a slim-chance of getting it right. Years later I wrote a screenplay that found some interest in Hollywood; a fictional accounting of a White/Indian, two-family relationship over generations. White and Indian Producers, White and Indian actors, Indian leaders from many tribal backgrounds, all became a part of those early days in the process of developing the film; some of them friends for life. I felt like a free man. I felt like God was happy. All good. Stereotypes and sad realities had been addressed. We could all be friends. We were all just human-beings clothed in different colors. Simple, right?

    Thanks, Ben. Aint nothing simple in the telling of our sad human condition. Whoever produced the ad, good for them. But something tells me that the closed ears and minds will stay that way until something comes along to open them. For me, it was the Marines, and a tendency to taking some things seriously–like the teachings of the Bible–not necessarily the practice of its preachers. Guess that makes me just another ‘romantic.’


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