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The future of Indian team mascots

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POSTED November 9, 2013 1:06 a.m.

It’s coming.

And sooner or later the Ripon Unified School District will have to answer the question: Is the use of the Indians OK for a school mascot?

Blame it on the politically correct movement or credit it to being more sensitive to various cultures that have been interwoven to create the American fabric.

The questioning of mascots based on Indian symbols picked up steam in 2005 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association identified 19 colleges and universities that had names it deemed inappropriate.

It reached its logical — or illogical conclusion depending upon how you view it — last year at the University of North Dakota that used Sioux as their mascot. The NCAA and state attorney general got into a legal entanglement after the state board of education ordered the mascot dropped prompting the North Dakota legislature voting to refuse to let the university drop Sioux as the mascot

That set the stage for a June 2012 statewide ballot. Some 67 percent of the voters approved dropping Sioux as the mascot. The university is now in the process of dropping the Sioux as a mascot. The legislature, though, has ordered UND to wait three years before coming up with a new mascot to replace the Sioux

A number of pundits and bloggers have deemed the election as politically correct madness. That doesn’t hold water given the conservative nature of North Dakota’s electorate.

A much higher profile campaign is now being waged to get the Washington Redskins to change their mascot.

When the San Francisco Chronicle announced it would not use the word Redskins to refer to the NFL team unless it was in the context of the controversy over the name, the knee jerk reaction would call it political correctness run amok.

But once you put it in context it is anything but PC.

There are no athletic teams named the Asians or that are referenced by their skin tone. The same is true with Hispanics, Blacks and Caucasians. That’s because hardly anyone would tolerate it.

Yes, using names such as the Warriors, Savages, Chiefs, Sioux, Fighting Illini, and Indians may be rich in tradition and probably most of us don’t find offense with it. But then we likely don’t have indigenous ethnic roots.

It didn’t really hit home until the Thermal High mascot controversy popped up this week. The Southern California desert school mascot is the Arab.

In the day it was adopted it wasn’t meant as an insult. It was picked according to Thermal historians to reflect the desert setting and the fact a large number  of dates were grown in the community.

But if you take a look at the actual mascot — a heavily bearded, wide-eyed caricature dressed in grab reminiscence of Lawrence of Arabia —  you might start having second thoughts about using any mascot that is based on an ethnic group.

The Arab mascot certainly doesn’t reflect any of the folks I know with an Arab ethnicity. I could see where it could be offensive to them. The same may be true of mascots dressed in Indian warrior garb.

Just because something has been done a certain way for years doesn’t mean it should continue that way. Things change.

That said there is a lot of emotion attached to mascots that isn’t motivated by racism. Back in 1967, Lincoln High in Placer County was tired of never having a winning season in football despite the sport stretching back at the campus to 1925. So they imported a football coach from Texas. The first thing Paul Hatem wanted to do was change the mascot. He thought the Zebras as a mascot reeked of meekness. Even before he coached his first game there was a lynch mob brewing. Zebras and Lincoln had been interconnected as strongly as Lincoln and clay. Ultimately a compromise was reached and the zebra was transformed into a pumped up, rip snorting striped beast that looked like it had taken enough steroids to make Barry Bonds look puny.

In two years time Lincoln got its first championship while the mascot still remained although it was now the Fighting Zebras with an image to match.

In 1972, Stanford University dropped the Indians and Prince Lightfoot as their mascot and switched to the Cardinal.

While I’m not advocating Ripon High do the same, the time may come in the future where pressure will be applied more than likely at the state level.

One shouldn’t mess with tradition given it was never intended to be or has been portrayed as racist in the minds and hearts of Ripon High students, fans, and alumni but if that time comes Ripon may want to give serious consideration of following in Stanford’s footsteps and becoming the Cardinal.

If for no other reason it resonates with Big Red plus the mascot is associated with a solid football and athletic program as well as strong academics that Ripon High certainly emulates.

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