Mike Wise receives NCAI Award

As Mike Wise’s career has progressed over the years, so has his voice as an advocate for ending the use of Native American mascots in sports.

Tuesday night at the Capitol Hilton Hotel’s banquet hall in Washington, D.C., Wise, a senior writer with ESPN’s The Undefeated, received the 2016 Public Sector Leadership Award by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) at the group’s annual leadership awards dinner.

On backlash from fans on the subject of ending Native American mascots …

The backlash has been ugly. But I think people who never had any malice toward our indigenous people need to know: You’re not a lousy person because you grew up loving and respecting your Indians, Braves, Fighting Illini, whatever. But now that you know, it’s time to move forward and change. Hell, if I honored my Dad by doing everything he did, I’d smoke, drink too much and cook everything in real butter. It’s OK to let go of some things, even familial things. It won’t kill you.

Afterwards, he discussed the honor with Front Row.

Why is it important for you to write about the issue of ending Native American mascots in sports?
For me, it goes back to a conversation I had with a Sioux father 25 years ago. Once one Native American parent emotionally tells you what the names and imagery do to their children’s self-esteem, you just know. When thousands more tell you the same thing over the next 25 years, you realize [the Native American mascots] all have to go. At the very minimum, Native Americans deserve to control their own identity. We’ve unpeopled them in many ways, only honoring who they were instead of who they are today.

They are not a monolithic people. They are educators, lawyers, engineers, doctors, small-business owners, college students. Bottom line, in order to respect who First Nations’ people are today — their intellect, humor, how they honor the land — we need to stop only revering them solely for their bravery two centuries ago. It’s like an old CD playing in our heads we need to get rid of.

How do you think your expertise on this topic will help shape your work for The Undefeated?
I think my coverage on the name-change issue and others — be it race, domestic violence, gay athletes — enabled me to delve into places I never thought I’d go in my career. While it’s impossible to ever completely put someone else’s shoes on, I’ve been able to go deep with my subjects, to fully understand a completely different perspective that needs to be out there. In that way, I feel a real kinship with The Undefeated family.

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