Race Issues and Sports
Louis Sockalexis (Penobscot)
Charles A. "Chief" Bender (Chippewa) on a 1911 baseball cardCourtesy Library of Congress
Half a decade before Jackie Robinson stepped onto a Major League field, Louis Sockalexis (Penobscot) and a few other Native Americans played for Major League teams and endured racism and harassment from fans, the media, and opposing players. Author, Native American (Lumbec), and former professional baseball player Joseph B. Oxendine, Ph.D. stated that
“the entry of Indians into Major League Baseball initiated the race/sport issue. Despite performing with distinction while being recognized and treated as minorities, Indian players have received scant recognition.”
In the first half of the 20th century, Native American players
were accosted with racial slurs bestowed on Indians at that time, and
those Indians with darker skin tones were subjected to racial slurs used
against African Americans as well. Because of this, many American
Indian professional baseball players downplayed their Native identity in
order to avoid this abuse. Often times Native American players, such
as Charles A. “Chief” Bender (Chippewa), cut their careers short because
of the emotional anguish they had to endure due to constant harassment.
While racist comments and harassment of black players subsided
somewhat around the time of the Civil Rights movement, stereotypes of
Indians were viewed as neither mean nor negative by the general public.
By the later-20th century, the general public’s attitude toward Native
Americans as individuals began to change, but as a group, team mascots,
logos, and names depicted a negative representation of Native Americans
as either silly or warlike, or as people who were both foreign and
somehow removed from our present day society.