Bronson Koenig is using his
newfound national platform to speak out against mistreatment of
Bronson Koenig (Ho-Chunk Nation)
On January 11, 2015, Bronson Koenig, backup point
guard for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team, was
thrust into a starting role for the NCAA basketball's sixth-ranked
team after senior point guard Traevon Jackson went down with a
broken foot. "I'm obviously going to have to start being more
vocal as a leader," Koenig, a sophomore, said following the announcement.
"One area of improvement I need to really start working on is
my leadership and being more vocal, but I'm confident that I'll
step into that role."
Since entering into the spotlight, Koenig has been vocal indeed,
on and off the court. A proud member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Koenig
is one of only forty-two athletes in Division I NCAA basketball
who identify as American Indian/Alaskan Native out of the more than
10,000 Division I basketball players in this country. The Ho-Chunk's
land once spread across Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, South
Dakota and Minnesota. Throughout the 1800s, however, they were removed
from their lands eleven times, eventually being forced to move to
parcels of land in Wisconsin and Nebraska. Koenig grew up not far
from this land, in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where he attended powwows
and learned about his Native heritage. He has used his newfound
national platform to show his Native pride, especially when it comes
to the fight against racist mascots.
Soon after assuming the role of starting point guard, Koenig
spoke with Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated about being a role
model for Native American youth. Days later he touched on the subject
again in an interview with Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel. "His tone changed," however, "when the topic turned to
the treatment of American Indians," Potrykus wrote. "When a Native
American kid sees that growing up and sees the disrespect, it lowers
their self-esteem and puts them in a lower place in society," Koenig
told him. He continued, "It's honoring them? It's not racist? How
are you going to say that when you're not a Native American?" Koenig
made sure to highlight the name of the Washington football team
being the worst: "That term comes from when we were skinned and
our flesh was red. I don't see how that is honoring us in anyway."
Koenig's statement reflects the ethos of "Change the Mascot,"
a national campaign to end the use of racist mascots and team names,
from Washington's football team to small high schools across the
country. Launched by the Oneida Indian Nation in 2013, the movement
has increasingly gained traction, especially in response to a powerful
commercial aired in key markets during last year's NBA finals. Images
of Native Americans, past and present, flash on screen accompanied
by a voiceover giving various descriptors, such as "proud," "forgotten,"
"survivor," "spiritualist" and "patriot." The voiceover concludes,
"Native Americans call themselves many things, the one thing they
" and the commercial ends with a photo of the Washington
team's helmet. The push has given courage to athletes, commentators
and others to say no to racist mascots.
One person who stands in direct opposition to this, besides
Dan Snyder, owner of Washington's football team, is Wisconsin Governor
In 2013, Walker signed a bill that makes it harder for public
schools to change racist mascots and names. The law, which he claimed
to support to defend the First Amendment, requires 10 percent of
a district's students to sign a petition within a 120-day period
to earn a hearing regarding changing a mascot name. A spokesperson
for the Wisconsin Indian Education Association
While Governor Walker might not be supportive, Badger fans have
been. "I certainly agree with Bronson Koenig, as I think most Badger
fans do," says Gary Peterson, a life-long Badger fan. Susan Schmitz,
a Madison native and a University of WisconsinMadison alum,
expressed her support for Bronson and all players willing to stick
their neck out. "I am very proud that the team has players like
Bronson, who is willing to take a stand against racist mascots.
This is especially important as our governor has continued to attack
American Indians and all working people in the state."
As a Wisconsin native, I couldn't agree more. It's good to see
players like Koenig who have principles and are willing to fight
against racism. As March Madness is just around the corner and the
Badgers have earned a number one seed in the tournament, I'm hoping
we will see Koenig help the Badgers make their second straight appearance
in the Final Four and give another platform for this discussion.