It’s a decades-old issue that pits pride and tradition against political correctness and cultural sensitivity. It’s prompted fiery debates between passionate foes and action by school boards, state governments and even the NCAA.
And yet, here in the waning days of 2013, we are faced with the same question that’s been making its rounds in sports television and radio, gymnasiums, classrooms and dinner tables for years: Can a school use a mascot that depicts an ethnic group without offending that group’s members?
The state of Wisconsin didn’t think so, passing a law in 2010 that forces schools to drop race-based mascots if they’re found to be discriminatory. Neither did Oregon’s Board of Education, which cut state funding to schools with Native American nicknames. And the NCAA made its stance clear in 2005 when it cracked down on the use of American Indian logos — a move that forced the University of Illinois to retire mascot Chief Illiniwek but maintain the nickname Fighting Illini.
Others — such as the Florida State Seminoles and Utah Utes — have been allowed to retain their nicknames after seeking and receiving permission from the tribes those names represent.
The debate, however, continues because some teams refuse to let go of mascots that popular public opinion deems culturally insensitive. Most notably, the Washington Redskins have come under fire this year for their nickname, which many in and outside of the Native American community consider an ethnic slur.
Certain media outlets and reporters have stopped using the nickname altogether, and President Barack Obama said earlier this year that, if he were owner of the Washington franchise, he would consider changing the name.
But Washington owner Dan Snyder has stood fast, so far, leaning heavily on the tradition of a franchise that dates back to the 1930s.
Tradition is a valid argument … when the nicknames honors, not degrades the group it represents.
Take our own Anderson Indians, for example. This area has a rich historical connection with the Native Americans who settled these lands, celebrated every year at the Andersontown powwow. Anderson High School’s logo is a proud chieftain. And its live mascots, the Indian Chief and the Maiden, at one time received specialized training to ensure the dance they perform before games is accurate.
Certainly, mascots and images that emphasize cultural stereotypes should be shied away from or discarded, without the need for legal intervention. But those meant to depict the pride and strength of an ethnic group should be allowed to cartwheel, cheer and tumble without fear.
In summary Mascots that utilize names and images of ethnic groups should represent the pride and strength of the culture, not magnify stereotypes.