About 17 years ago, I wrote something I’m not proud of. I wrote a commentary about the Redskins nickname at North High, a counterpoint to a piece written by my Eagle colleague, Rod Pocowatchit, who thought the right thing to do was to drop the name.
I argued otherwise.
“ I’m offended, you’re offended, all God’s children are offended.
You can’t walk down the street these days without upsetting somebody.
Some of the big news in Wichita recently has involved two Native American women who take offense to Wichita North High School’s mascot.
They say it’s derogatory. They say North’s nickname should have nothing to do with Native Americans, and they’re intent on getting it changed.
They feel strongly about the subject, and they have formulated well thought-out reasons for their outrage.
But I strongly disagree with their premise. The identity of North High, which has a rich tradition in academics, sports and everything else, is woven through its mascot. If you haven’t witnessed a North High cheerleader war dance before a basketball game in the North gym, you have missed something.
It is something that celebrates Native Americans and makes the rest of us think about what a rich and beautiful culture they have.
North High is almost a Native American museum, and its mascot is a proud reference to that culture. At least, I’m sure it was intended that way.”
That’s part of what I wrote. And do you notice what word is almost totally missing?
I used “Native Americans” plenty. But not Redskins.
Because “Redskins” is an offensive term. It was offensive then and it’s offensive now. And whether or not most Native Americans are offended or not, “Redskins” should not be a nickname at North or anywhere else.
What made me come around?
Time, I suppose. A changing culture, maybe. Better understanding, I hope.
More from my 1997 column:
“When schools choose mascots, they generally try to go for something they’re proud of. Whoever decided that North athletic teams should be named ‘Redskins’ didn’t make the decision out of disrespect.”
Now how in the world would I know that? North gained its nickname a long, long time ago, when the world was a much different place. We’re evolving, amidst all of the pain, suffering and insensitivity involved with evolution. It’s commonplace for folks to view a sensitivity toward racism and slander with a jaundiced eye. They’re not offended, so why would anyone be offended?
I’ve been reading a lot of that kind of drivel today after NBC’s Bob Costas used his “Sunday Night Football” halftime platform to suggest that the Washington Redskins change their nickname. With predictability, many Americans have attacked Costas today.
I wonder, though, how many Native Americans attacked Costas? Or African-Americans? Or Hispanics? Or the other vast array of minorities that make America a much more colorful place than it was when a school’s sports teams were routinely named “Redskins.”
I look at what I wrote years ago with surprise that I could think that way. North is a special place to me. My son graduated from there in 2001 and my wife in 1979. It is my favorite high school and one of the reasons is because of the beautiful architecture of the school and nearby landmarks.
So why diminish all of that with the nickname “Redskins?”
More of what I wrote:
“It’s their school. It belongs to the students and to the North High alumni and to the thousands and thousands of people who have attended school there.
Not very many of those students, including a significant number of Native Americans, have complained. Apparently, they see the mascot as reverential, which obviously is the way it was intended.
How it is interpreted now by what seems like only a few is worthy of discussion, but not much else. It’s always important for society to asses its standards of decency, and occasionally to make changes in that regard.”
My son was an eighth-grader when I wrote the piece. I was excited to send him to North and proud that he’s a graduate.
But I’m not proud that he’s a “Redskin.” And I’m not proud of what I wrote 16 years ago.
North is the most diverse high school in Wichita. I know hundreds of North people and I’m sure many will be upset with me. But I’m counting on a few to understand where I’m coming from and to work toward finding a more suitable nickname, one that truly does glorify the Native American culture and makes that group as proud of North as the rest of its constituents.