When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
As far as Katie Uhlaender can tell, skeleton—which involves hurtling yourself face-first on a sled down an icy course at top speeds of nearly 90 miles an hour—is the safest sport she has ever tried. "I've had eight surgeries," she says, "but none of them were from skeleton."
Four years ago, preparing for the Vancouver Olympics, Uhlaender twice shattered her left knee—the first time in a backcountry snowmobile accident—requiring four surgeries and keeping her on crutches until 20 weeks before the Games. Add in the emotional pain of the death of her father, former major league outfielder Ted Uhlaender, and it's no wonder that she struggled to an 11th-place finish in Vancouver.
Now, for the second Olympics in a row, Uhlaender is coming off an injury. This time, it's skeleton-related: She suffered a concussion on a training run in Lake Placid a few months ago and was limited throughout the fall. "It was the first time in 10 years that I've had to not take the second run," she says.
With Sochi on the horizon, I chatted with the 2012 world champ about how she got her start on the sled, how to slide without thinking, and how to manage the double-standard between men and women, in sports and beyond:
Mother Jones: So how did you ever get started in skeleton?
Katie Uhlaender: I just happened to get to meet someone completely random and got sucked in before I knew better. [Laughs.] I just met a girl who was a bobsledder, and she talked me into trying it. Three weeks into it I won junior nationals, fourth week I went to junior worlds, eighth week I won senior nationals. I kind of started winning right away, and it was either go to college and get a Ph.D. or become an Olympian. So I basically made a choice.
MJ: Had you played a lot of sports growing up?
KU: My father was a major league baseball player, so if you weren't an athlete, you weren't cool. I just was an athlete and was looking for a sport, and that's what happened. I just took advantage of an opportunity and made a choice.
MJ: What was it like to have so much success so early?
KU: It's all relative, right? First, when I went to junior worlds, I was conflicted because I didn't feel like I deserved it. And then I talked to my dad, and he referenced his first at-bat in the big leagues. He couldn't stop shaking. And then he realized that every legend before him took the same steps he took up to the plate. Once you get to the plate, you have two options: You either quit, or you try to hit the ball.
Audelina Aguilar set off on the six-week journey along the migrant trail at 14, leaving her parents and nine younger siblings behind in the highlands of rural Guatemala. She rode atop Mexican freight trains, from Chiapas in the south to Tamaulipas in the north. She fought off a would-be rapist with the help of the only other woman in the group, who screamed, "She's a baby!" She walked through the South Texas wilderness for four days, trying to steer clear of the assailant, who was still with the group, and of the human remains they encountered along the way.
They were led by a coyote, and her 16-year-old cousin was with her, but other than that Aguilar was on her own. "When I left my country," she told me, "I said, 'I know God is going to be with me, and everything is going to be okay.'"
As more and more people have called for Washington's pro football team to change its name, some folks have argued that the only way to get owner Dan Snyder to listen is to go after his wallet. That's right: Boycott the team or, failing that, target its corporate sponsors.
On its official website, the team displays five of its largest partners: Ticketmaster, FedEx Express, Bud Light, Ameritel Corporation, and Bank of America. Mother Jones reached out to each of these sponsors, as well as a few others, to see if they had any comment on the campaign to push Snyder to drop the R-word—and whether they had considered dropping their sponsorship because of the controversy. Here's what their spokespeople had to say:
Coca-Cola: "As sponsors, we do not play a role in decisions regarding NFL trademarks. Your questions can be better addressed by the team and the NFL."
FedEx: "We understand that there is a difference of opinion on this issue. Nevertheless, we believe that our sponsorship of FedEx Field continues to be in the best interests of FedEx and its stockholders."
New York Life: "The company has received no complaints. The company plans to assess the sponsorship at the conclusion of the season."
Virginia Lottery: "We have not received complaints regarding the Redskins sponsorship and we are not considering dropping it."
Ticketmaster: "We are declining to comment, but perhaps their sponsor StubHub would have something to say about this. StubHub is located right there in San Francisco."
Thanks for the suggestion, Ticketmaster PR! Unfortunately, StubHub—like Ameritel, Anheuser-Busch, and Bank of America—did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In November 2008, seven Long Island teenagers "hunting for beaners" set upon two Ecuadorean immigrants in the quiet village of Patchogue. When Marcelo Lucero fought back, he was fatally stabbed. Former New York Times reporter Mirta Ojito reconstructs the night in painstaking detail, illuminating the anti-Latino sentiment that bubbled up as new-immigrant lifestyles clashed with suburban mores. Though she sometimes gets mired in the minutiae, she aptly captures a town's struggle to reconcile its lily-white past with its increasingly diverse present. Of Lucero, Ojito writes: "Only in death were they forced to see him."
On October 30, representatives from the Oneida Nation met with NFL higher-ups in New York City to discuss the Washington pro football team's offensive name—another in a series of moves to pressure the franchise to change its name and mascot. After the meeting, Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said, "Believe me, we're not going away."
But with everyone from President Obama to Bob Costas weighing in on the [Redacted], it's worth remembering that this issue didn't start when owner Dan Snyder said that'd he'd "never" change the name—and that it's not limited to one team. Here are some key moments in the history of racially insensitive sports mascots:
The word "redskin" first appears in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. Eight years later, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary notes that the term is "often contemptuous."
The first incarnation of baseball's Cleveland Indians forms. "There will be no real Indians on the roster, but the name will recall fine traditions," the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote at the time.
Oorang Dog Kennels owner Walter Lingo founds the Oorang Indians, an NFL team made up entirely of Native Americans and coached by Jim Thorpe. The team's popular halftime shows feature tomahawk-throwing demonstrations and performances from Lingo's prized Airedale terriers.
The Duluth Kelleys pro football team changes its name to the Duluth Eskimos.
The Boston Braves changes its name to the Boston [Redacted]. According to the Boston Herald, "the change was made to avoid confusion with the Braves baseball team and the team that is to be coached by an Indian." (The coach, Lone Star Dietz, might not have been Native American.)
The Zulu Cannibal Giants, an all-black baseball team that played in war paint and grass skirts, barnstorms around the country. Six years later, the Ethiopian Clowns continue the tradition of mixing baseball with comedy to appeal to white audiences.
Stewart Udall, John F. Kennedy's interior secretary, threatens to take away the Washington football team's federally owned home stadium due to owner George Preston Marshall's refusal to sign a black player. Despite support from members of the American Nazi Party, Marshall begrudgingly signs a handful of black players for the 1962 season, making Washington the last team in the NFL to integrate.
The Philadelphia Warriors basketball team moves to San Francisco, changing its Native American caricature logo to a plain headdress. In 1969, the imagery is dropped altogether in favor of a Golden Gate Bridge logo.
The Washington [Redacted] registers its name and logo for trademarks.
St. Bonaventure University drops the name Brown Squaws for its women's teams when, as one former player put it, "a Seneca chief and clan mothers came over from the reservation and asked us to stop using the name, because it meant vagina." Seventeen years later, men's and women's team names are officially changed from the Brown Indians to the Bonnies.
Washington [Redacted] fan Zema Williams, who is African American, begins appearing at home games in a replica headdress. "Chief Zee" becomes an unofficial mascot. "The older people been watching me so long, they don't even say 'Indian,'" Williams told the Washington Post. "They say, 'Injun. There's my Injun.'" He still goes to games in his regalia.
Syracuse University drops its Saltine Warrior mascot—a costumed undergrad—and iconography after Native American students call the character racist and degrading.
The Atlanta Braves retire "Chief Noc-A-Homa," a man in Native American dress who would emerge from a tepee in the left field bleachers to dance after a home run. Levi Walker, a member of the Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the last man to play Noc-A-Homa, said the Braves were "overly sensitive about being politically correct."
Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser writes that "it's only a matter of time until 'Redskins' is gone." He suggests the team change its name to the Pigskins. (In 2012, a Washington City Paperpoll asks readers to vote for a new team name; "Pigskins" wins with 50 percent of the vote.)
Marquette University and St. John's University both change their Native American mascots. Marquette's Warriors become the Golden Eagles; St. John's Redmen become the Red Storm.
The Redskins unveil a special mascot for the 1995 Pro Bowl. It is quickly retired.
The Miami (Ohio) University Redskins become the RedHawks.
The National Congress of American Indians commissions a poster featuring a Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo baseball cap alongside those from the (imaginary) New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen. The ad goes viral in 2013 when the [Redacted] controversy heats up again.
The University of Northern Colorado's satirically named Fighting Whites intramural basketball team uses $100,000 from merchandise sales to create a scholarship fund for minority students.
The NCAA grants Florida State University a waiver to continue using its Seminoles nickname and iconography largely due to support from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which maintains a friendly relationship with the university.
A leaked Atlanta Braves batting-practice cap features the decades-old "Screaming Savage" logo. After a public outcry, it never makes it to stores.
[Redacted] owner Dan Snyder tells USA Today that he'll never change his team's name: "NEVER—you can use caps." Ten members of Congress, including Native American Tom Cole (R-Okla.), sign a letter urging Snyder to drop the R-word: "Native Americans throughout the country consider the term 'redskin' a racial, derogatory slur akin to the 'N-word.'" NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responds that the team's name is "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."
A resolution by the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes states that "the use of the term 'Redskins' as the name of a franchise is derogatory and racist" and that "the term perpetuates harmful stereotypes, even if it is not intentional, and continues the damaging practice of relegating Native people to the past and as a caricature."
Appearing on a DC sports radio program, Goodell says of the [Redacted] name, "If one person is offended, we have to listen."
Obama tells the Associated Press, "If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team—even if it had a storied history—that was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it." In a letter to season ticket holders, Snyder insists that the name "was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor." And, at the end of the month, the Oneida ask to meet with all 32 NFL owners during Super Bowl week:
ThinkProgress publishes an exhaustive account of the fight to rebrand the slur, revealing that the Washington team consulted with Republican advisers—including GOP messaging consultant Frank Luntz, former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer , and former Virginia governor and US Sen. George Allen—on how to handle criticism of the team's name. Then, during a pre-Super Bowl press conference, Goodell is asked if he would ever call a Native American the name of Washington's team. Goodell hedges, saying the name has been "presented in a way that honors Native Americans."
Meanwhile, the National Congress of American Indians releases this video the week of the big game:
In a letter to "Everyone in Our Redskins Nation," Snyder claims that, after visiting 26 tribal reservations in 20 states, "it's plain to see they need action, not words." So a change to the team's name is finally in order? Nope. Instead, Snyder announces the creation of Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, whose mission is "to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities." The letter touts a number of projects already completed, including distributing 3,000 cold-weather jackets to tribes during the bitter winter and purchasing a new backhoe for the Omaha Tribe in Nebraska. The team's name, however, will remain the same.
Read the full letter here:
The US Patent and Trademark Office canceled six Redskins trademarks, ruling that the name is "disparaging to Native Americans." (Federal law prohibits the protection of offensive and/or disparaging language.) The decision marked the second time that the team lost its trademark protections, though the first ruling, made in 1999, was overturned in federal court in 2003. The Redskins will certainly appeal the Patent Office's decision; during that time—which could last years—the team will retain its trademark protection.
Read the full ruling here, and be sure to check out some of the images presented as evidence by the plaintiffs, including this one: