Adidas To Help High Schools Change Native American Mascots

"It's important to create a climate that feels open to everyone who wants to compete."

Adidas on Thursday announced a new initiative to help high schools change "potentially harmful" Native American mascots.

The sports apparel company, which has North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon, will allow schools to volunteer for the program and will provide financial assistance for mascot and nickname changes "to ensure the transition is not cost prohibitive," it said in a release. Schools that want help changing mascots can email Adidas to enroll in the program.

The initiative's launch is timed to coincide with the White House Tribal Nations Conference, which starts Thursday in Washington, D.C., and will include representatives from as many as 567 federally recognized tribes. 

"High school social identities are central to the lives of young athletes, so it's important to create a climate that feels open to everyone who wants to compete," Mark King, the president of Adidas North America, said in a statement.

"But the issue is much bigger," the statement continued. "These social identities affect the whole student body and, really, entire communities. In many cities across our nation, the high school and its sports teams take center stage in the community and the mascot and team names become an everyday rallying cry."

As many as 2,000 high schools use Native American mascots and imagery, which tribes and activists have long argued are harmful to communities and students because they perpetuate negative stereotypes. The American Psychological Association and American Sociological Association have both recommended changing such mascots because of the effects they can have on native and non-native students.

Universities and high schools have spent decades weighing the appropriateness of Native American mascots, with many deciding to change them. 

That movement has reignited in recent years as activists renewed their fight for Washington's NFL team to change its name and mascot. 

At least eight high schools across the country have dropped "Redskins" names in the last four years. In 2012, Oregon passed a law to force schools to change Native American mascots without tribal approval, and in October, California enacted a law that bans high schools there from using "Redskins." Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) recently formed a task force to review the use of such mascots in his state.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released the findings of a year-long tribal listening tour, during which Native American students told federal officials that states and school districts should consider changing the mascots because of the harm they can cause.

Ray Halbritter, the representative of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York who helped launch the Change The Mascot campaign to target Washington's NFL team, praised Adidas' announcement in an email to The Huffington Post.

"This is a tremendous display of corporate leadership," Halbritter said, adding that he hopes companies that sponsor Washington's team will take notice and follow suit.

"Adidas clearly understands that this issue is about picking which side you are on," he said. "They are choosing to be on the side of inclusivity and mutual respect and have set the bar for other businesses to now follow."