This story was published on April 02, 2004 on Page C1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News
(Editor note: This is the first of three columns concerning disrespect to Native Americans in the world of sports and, in particular, disrespect to a Maine legend, Louis Sockalexis, by Sockalexis biographer Ed Rice. In this first column, Rice explores the continuing use of the nickname “Redskins.”)
We live in a curiously impolite era. We know no new sporting team in this country – whether spawned to give identity to a new grade school, college or amateur team, or to promote the creation of a new professional enterprise – that would dare feature a mascot or logo with a direct racial or ethnic theme. And, of course, no one would seriously contemplate a design that would clearly be offensive to the Black, Hispanic, Jewish communities, etc.
Yet, sadly and tragically, the Native American race hasn’t earned such universal respect. Otherwise why would we continue to accept the “traditions” of popular teams, like the collegiate Florida State Seminoles, and professional enterprises in Cleveland, Atlanta, Kansas City and, of course, Washington, D.C., which blithely continue on the same deplorable paths?
Clearly, even with Native Americans, there are boundaries. No one, for instance, would think to create a new television series or blockbuster movie in which Native Americans are depicted as “raping, murdering savages” to be killed by the truckloads … as was the case all through the 1950s.
For quite some time now I’ve found it incongruous that we “celebrate” the Native American prowess as “warriors.” Why, really, are the multitude of souls, the ones who are less-sensitive on this issue in our society, so enamored with the Native American fighting capability when they’re also equally aware that our national policy was once, simply, to slaughter Indians and quarantine the survivors on reservations?
Perhaps, when this culture’s members, the ones who are so exasperated with any crusade for “political correctness,” are looking for a more dynamic persona for our U.S. Olympic teams, it’s really right under their own insensitive noses. What’s our most crushing, warrior-like moment in our national history? Isn’t it when we detonated two atomic devices and ended Japanese hostilities in the unquestioned most devastating manner in world history? So, how about a new battle cry and logo when we enter into Olympic “battle”? We’ll use the symbol of the mushroom-shaped cloud and proclaim: “We drop The Big One.”
What?… Toooo insensitive?…In toooo much poor taste?
Well, ask a Native American how he or she feels watching some white high school or college student portray a warring Indian, prancing about, doing war whoops…making a mockery of sacred symbols and sacred dances.
One Native American student once wrote this in an essay for a community college class I taught: “How would Catholics feel…seeing someone, representing some sporting team named the Monks, throw something representing Holy Water into the crowd as part of the clamor for something as trivial as a sports victory?”
The shame of another Native American student was once described to me when, at a local high school game where a mascot was wearing an Eagle feather and pretending to do a dance, her teenaged daughter asked her why their culture was being shown so much disrespect. Both had tears in their eyes, and both determined to leave right then, together.
Fortunately, in recent times, a number of colleges – like Stanford, St. John’s and the University of Massachusetts – and countless high schools across the land have reversed disrespectful traditions. Just a few weeks ago the state of California took a bold and admirable step when its Legislature passed a resolution barring any of its public school or college teams from using the nickname “Redskins.” Certainly, here in Maine, Scarborough High School is to be applauded for dropping the same vile nickname.
But both Sanford High School and Wiscasset High School must continue to be condemned for failing to drop the same nickname. What an embarrassing example these town and school leaders are setting, concerning respect and sensitivity for racial and cultural diversity, for the youth of their communities.
ACTION STEP: Change your nickname, now, Sanford High School and Wiscasset High School… Start a fresh tradition, as soon as possible, that doesn’t require your town and your school to show such blatant disrespect for a race of people.