◆ With Washington and Cleveland examining name changes, what does that mean for high school programs?
The world is a funny place. And sometimes funny actually means terrifying, or bewildering or completely unpredictable. Take your pick at any of those adjectives for 2020 because things are going to be whatever you didn’t expect them to be.
I’ve written on potential name changes for sports teams before. Many times actually. I’ve even compiled lists of potential replacements should things go that direction locally. But before I get to that part of the discussion I wanted to expound a bit on the impending name change of the Washington Redskins. And yes, it is changing. The second that organization released a statement saying they were examining the name, it was over. Corporate sponsors, big ones, made it clear they would like the organization to change the name and on top of decades of push-back by some and despite a fist-shaking refusal by others, it’s happening.
My own opinion on using Indian imagery as a mascot has evolved over a lifetime and it’s hard to encompass that into just a few words.
I was born in Afton, Wyoming the youngest of six kids, all of which loved sports. The local high school team, which my four brothers competed on, were the Braves. By five years old it didn’t take much for me to latch onto the Washington Redskins as my favorite professional football team. That was in 1981. At that time as a high school football program in Wyoming, you weren’t just going to pop on the internet and design a new logo and have them send it to you overnight for a cheap cost. Getting helmet stickers was a process and choices were limited.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t other helmet stickers for the Star Valley Braves. From a star logo, to the crossed tomahawks, to the lightning “SV” and others, there were different attempts. But the sticker of the Redskins stuck in the 1980s for the most part with the aforementioned handful of exceptions, it was the symbol of the program.
Growing up, the term Redskins meant winning. From the time I adopted the team in my little tiny brain, the team went to the Super Bowl four times and won three of them by the time I started high school. Joe Gibbs, the head coach of the team often used the phrase, “looking for true Redskins” in his search for players who would put team above self and sacrifice for the good of the franchise and the community.
That’s what I always felt the team meant.
But sometimes even in moments of blissful ignorance, we can be wrong.
Take for example the former mascot costume for SVHS. The head was over-sized with a giant nose and dark black skin and a scowl. I never gave it a second thought.
But there are those that were bothered by it and honestly I see why. Its an over-dramatization of an entire group of people that is being winnowed down for entertainment purposes. Again, I’m not trying to explain anything to anyone, I’m just telling you my own personal journey.
The mascot costume went away. I’m not exactly sure when, but it did. In 1992 came the first of many lawsuits against the Redskins asking them to do away with the name. Threatening boycotts and who knows how many legal trademark court cases since then.
More recently, Teton High School, less than two hours away, has done away with their Redskins mascot usage. They are now the Teton Timberwolves.
In 2012 I wrote about how schools in the State of Oregon had a five-year grace period to phase out Indian imagery or face the reality of having their funds from the state legislature affected. As of 2017 that went into affect although some bills were introduced based on schools’ ability to garner approval from any of the nine tribes who call the state home.
In Wyoming there are many schools who have a majority of students who have Native American lineage. Some of those schools use that imagery, others do not.
Some people are incredibly fired up by the mere mention of changing any of these names. Make no mistake, this is a conversation that could very well be coming to our very houses. The Redskins, Chiefs, Indians, Blackhawks and Braves are the giant-sized dominoes that are starting to fall. When or if that gets to the high school level in Wyoming anytime soon? I don’t know.
And I guess the difference is, I don’t care. I used to be what I felt was being very “democratic” when it came to such changes. The majority rules.
I also used to be very defensive about this conversation.
Now, I have native friends who are very offended by this type of imagery and I have other friends who have roots who still love the names.
The important thing to remember to me is that history does not change. The team and programs that we grew up loving are still the teams and programs that we loved. They just might be getting a different wardrobe.
The Washington Redskins used to be the Boston Braves. The Star Valley Braves used to be the Star Valley Cheesemakers. Before that, they were the Star Valley Athletic Club. The program was still started in 1928 and is one of the most successful in Wyoming prep history. That won’t change.
A high school sports program should reflect one’s community and their ability to love each other, back each other up, show pride in their hard work and on game day show other communities that they don’t do it as well as we do.
By the way, my two favorite concepts should things move that direction at the local level? The Star Valley Cutthroats and the Star Valley Fighting Elk. Keep the colors, the fight song and everything else. Maybe you have a different suggestion. Maybe this topic makes you madder than a hornet. But in a year where we are just hoping to have sports, the names of what we refer to the teams seems more secondary than ever.