Maybe rather than ask why schools should drop Native American images from their sports teams, the more appropriate question to ask is why keep them?
It’s much more difficult to justify keeping these archaic and offensive symbols as representative of athletic teams and school identity than it is to challenge the reasons for changing them.
As the country continues its period of reckoning on matters of race and historic discrimination — a period that’s led to a national debate over everything from racial profiling by police to the appropriateness of statues honoring Confederate heroes and even our Founding Fathers — now is an appropriate time for school boards, parents, taxpayers and students to have the discussion about whether it’s time to drop the Native American mascots.
In professional sports, the Washington Redskins football team and the Cleveland Indians baseball team are among those franchises that have announced they are holding discussions about dropping their Native American monikers. Other teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Blackhawks will be under increasing pressure to do the same.
While to some, using Native American culture to symbolize sports teams is clearly racist and highly offensive stereotyping, others defend the use of the symbols by saying they are honoring Native American bravery and heritage, or by claiming that the effort to change sports names is merely another move toward political correctness.
You’ll get people who feel strongly about each position. And that will make it more difficult to make changes, even if the changes are done for moral reasons.
With the choice coming down to keeping them or dropping them, people should ask, “Why keep them?”
Other than refusing to give in to the PC crowd or to hold onto tradition, what other reason is there for schools to maintain these names that so many people find offensive?
Is holding on to some long-established logo worth offending even one person or group?
If Native Americans are offended by our words or actions or a symbol, whether we agree they should be offended or not, isn’t it our obligation as compassionate human beings to just stop doing whatever it is that’s offending them?
Or ask yourself this. When you played sports or engaged in other competitions in high school, why did you do it?
Did you do it for the patch on your uniform? Or did you do it for some other reason?
School pride. The spirit of competition. Internal gratification. Team camaraderie. Athletic glory.
When you cheered for your school team, were you cheering for the tomahawk or arrowhead on the helmet, or were you cheering for the person in the uniform, the individuals and collective assembly of players on the field, court or rink?
When you hark back to your high school days, do you express pride in the team logo, or is it something bigger than that? How much of your experience as a child was focused on the history and tradition of your school mascot?
Then ask yourself what you gained, educationally, culturally or emotionally, from the association. Probably not a lot.
Even if you still don’t understand what all the fuss is about, it’s difficult to muster a strong argument for maintaining a symbol or ideal that so many find offensive.
It won’t be easy convincing the unconvinced. That’s why it’s important for all school districts with Native American identities to have a public discussion about it.
Now is the time.
School boards should hold public forums. Invite everyone to speak. Hear what everyone has to say.
Bring in representatives of the Native American community and other ethic and cultural organizations to address the citizens. Invite civil rights advocates to share their experiences. Take online polls and invite written comments.
Discuss it in the classrooms, where teachers can impart the lessons of history on their students.
Use this as an opportunity to educate students, the community and ourselves about the struggles faced by those who are victims of historic stereotypes. Make an effort to understand their struggles and feel their pain.
The Mechanicville City School District, to its great credit, is setting the example by addressing the district’s Red Raiders mascot and Native American imagery. Other districts should follow.
This is where it begins — with a frank, thorough and transparent discussion.
This is where our growth as a society always begins.