Animal Law Goes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Bridget Crawford

Earlier this summer I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio with my father (who is in his 70’s) and my daughter (who is 10). .  I love the Jim Thorpe statue and the Hall of Fame Gallery’s bronze busts.  I refreshed my sports memory, learned a bit about history and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Hall of Fame through both my father’s and my daughter’s eyes.         

I have long been aware of the critique of sports teams that appropriate or distort names and/or images associated with Native Americans.  After all, one of my childhood hometown teams was the Cleveland Indians.  It would be hard to find someone from Cleveland who is not aware of the critique.  Before visiting the Football Hall of Fame, though, I had never considered the number of pro sports teams that have animal names and logos.  In the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s “Teams of the NFL” exhibit, Jacksonville Jaguars’ logo caught my eye.  Then I noticed the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, the Seattle Seahawks.  But it was the Jacksonville logo to which I returned.  Why is it that I had never noticed the distortion of this animal image?  Is it because, after a childhood of Warner Brothers cartoons, I’m accustomed to images of animals that don’t look like animals that one would find in nature?  Do I tolerate distortions in animal images that I would find objectionable in human images?  And would  a National Geographic-esque photo of a jaguar work as a logo? Am I asking the wrong questions? Am I sensing an issue where there isn’t one?

3 Responses

  1. That’s an interesting comparison. I think the first question to ask is why a team chose the mascot/name that it did. It seems logical that the owners in Jacksonville, Detroit, Chicago, ect. chose the Jaguars, Lions, and Bears, respectively, for their ferocious and awe-inspiring characteristics. That rationale runs into trouble with the Indians, Seminoles, Blackhawks, ect., both because their culture is being praised for inappropriate reasons, and because of the depictions in the teams’ logos.

    I would venture that the big cats and raptors themselves are not concerned with the logos, as say a Native American might be. Are we desensitizing ourselves to animals through inaccurate or possibly offensive humorous depictions? I guess it depends on the logo/picture. I’m not personally concerned with the Detroit Lions, though I know that no wild lions are quite that shade of blue. Jacksonville’s logo has odd angles and a teal tongue, but that was the style of the 1990s when it was created (compare that to the flaming horse head of the teal logos the Detroit Pistons adopted around the same time). I’m inclined to accept it as an artistic choice, like one might a Picasso-like human depiction.

    But I like your point. I am disturbed by restaurants that display happy anthropomorphic pigs drooling over pork, or cows eating hamburgers, so there is a line, somewhere.

  2. I DO kinda like the fact that Baltimore chose the Ravens in honor of long-time resident Edgar Allen Poe.

    Logos need to be bold, simple, easily reproduced, and recognized at a glance; for these reasons, they are often stylized. (And for these reasons, a photo wouldn’t work.) But your point is well-taken–is it appropriate to appropriate someone else’s image and name? Seems that the more marginalized and disenfranchised a group is, the more likely it is to become a logo and a mascot.

  3. I think there is certainly an issue here. Sports teams that name themselves after Native America tribes portray those groups as less than human and give them an image that is wrong. Similarly, when I walk my dog (a pit bull) and people cross the street I am offended and I believe my dog is offended too. Because of images like these and these, BULLY breads are given a bad reputation in exactly the same way that the media gave minorities a bad reputation in the late 80’s and 90’s by selective coverage. Pit Bulls are portrayed more different than other dogs, when they are exactly the same as Golden Retrievers (if not more adorable). Shark Week on the Discovery Channel always aggravates me for same reason. It is an entire week dedicated to making a fish look like the devil. That is rude Discovery Channel, especially when Mosquitoes are responsible for the deaths of so many more people.

    In response to a comment above, animals may not be ‘concerned’ with their images because they are not capable of understanding that their image is being distorted. But they are affected by these portrayals because they warp peoples perceptions and as a result they are uethanized in animal shelters, without the option of adoption, because they are thought to be a threat to society.

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