This is a challenge. A direct challenge.
The topic is not new, in fact, it has grown rather tiresome. Yet the necessary outcome has not been reached. The proper arguments have been stated and restated, yet beyond an inch gained here and there, as with the Indians becoming the Red Hawks last year at Manchester High, the moral and decent result has not been achieved.
So this is a challenge to my employer, which operates GameTimeCT, the largest high school athletic website in Connecticut. A challenge that The Day of New London already embraced with one school. No more Redmen or Redgals. Just Killingly.
This is a challenge for each of the Hearst Connecticut’s papers from Greenwich to New Haven and so, too, to state media outlets that to the best of my knowledge are still using Native American nicknames.
Do the right thing.
Once the pandemic lifts and our kids are fortunate to take the athletic fields again, no more Derby Red Raiders. No more Glastonbury Tomahawks. No more RHAM Sachems. No more North Haven Indians. No more recognition of the approximately 20 high school nicknames linked to Native Americans.
Just Derby. Glastonbury. RHAM. North Haven. Torrington. Wilcox Tech of Meriden. And the rest, who insist on using Native American mascots, nicknames and logos, identified only by their towns and high schools.
If the towns themselves, or more specifically the groups of obstinate people who think a nickname is more important than their athletic accomplishments and defines their very being, won’t do anything … clear thinking people should.
Recognition for their teams and athletes. None for their offensive nicknames, logos and mascots.
When Joe Aresimowicz said after the Killingly debacle in January that state lawmakers should introduce a bill and hold a hearing on whether to ban Native American athletic nicknames and symbols at public high schools, I had two reactions: 1. Bully for the Connecticut House Speaker/Berlin High football coach. 2. Why does it take a government official to tell us the Killingly mascot is offensive and the town made a mockery of the process?
With the sports world on hold and so many of us sitting at home, there has been plenty of time to consider things. And for those of us who haven’t spent all of it moaning that we can’t get a haircut or have to walk single file in the grocery store, hey, maybe we’ve even considered some things that will make us better human beings.
Granted, Native American athletic nicknames aren’t at the top of the list, nor should they be. Yet Native Americans should be on our minds and in our hearts.
Do you know that beyond New York and New Jersey, the place with the highest concentration of COVID-19 is Navajo Nation? Do you know annually the federal government spends $2,834 per person on health care in Native American Country and $12,744 per person on Medicare. Vulnerable, underfunded in areas of wellness, hit hard by heart disease and diabetes, with casinos, a major source of revenue for many tribes, shut down across the country, most Native Americans are staring at hard times.
And what of their history? Guns didn’t kill nearly as many Native Americans as disease. No one can say for sure, but 10 million, 20 million, 50 million died of disease Europeans brought to the American shores. If nothing else, coronavirus, with its origins still being investigated, should hammer home how millions of our indigenous people were wiped out in the past by these plagues.
So maybe we should call them the Conard Smallpox Chieftains, the Torrington Cholera Red Raiders, the Farmington Influenza Indians. How about the Guilford Bubonic Plague Indians or Nonnewaug Malaria Chiefs? That would pay tribute to their courage.
What? You don’t think a cartoon smallpox Indian face would be cool? Or a redskin mascot, wracked with Bubonic plague, dressed up in chief’s headdress, wouldn’t be spiffy?
In January, the Mohegan Tribe announced it no longer supported the use of Native American-related nicknames. The tribe runs one of the world’s largest casinos in Montville and for many years gave its blessing to the town’s high school using Indians as a nickname. In her statement, Mohegan Chief Lynn Malerba, said, “While the stated intent may be to ‘honor’ American Indians, there is a great potential for less than respectful behaviors to occur in conjunction with these mascots. Additionally, people should not be considered mascots. It is demeaning to be relegated to a stereotyping of a people.”
You will not find 100 percent consensus among Native Americans what is objectionable and not, but that doesn’t excuse the rest of us to be 100 percent wrong in continuing to carry old stereotypes onto our kids’ playing fields. Thousands and thousands of Native Americans are offended by their use and that was plenty more than enough to wake us up a long time ago.
So much of the 2020 controversy stems from the Killingly Board of Education making history by doing an about-face and reinstituting Redmen in a January vote. The Killingly BOE had voted to change the name to Red Hawks in October and the school faculty and students appeared to be making a comfortable change when Republicans gained control of the BOE in November elections and changed the nickname back. Various tribes told Killingly they were against it. Didn’t matter.
Redmen? Redgals? Good grief. How would Blackmen and Yellowgals go over in 2020? They wouldn’t. It’s an outrage.
Some of these 20 odd schools have dropped using Native American logos, but have kept the names. Warriors is an interesting case, because the word has come to mean something more in modern nomenclature away from Native American bravery. It has become a positive term in sports for someone willing to give his or her all for a team. As we go along and if all schools all drop Native American designs, Warriors is a term we can look at for inclusion. Some would disagree with me.
Yet you look at a list of colleges — all divisions — there are two schools nicknamed generic Indians across the country. There are seven high schools alone in Connecticut. Maine became the first state last year to ban all Native American mascots in its public schools, while others have partial bans.
You wonder why a law would even be needed? Common sense and a modicum of sensitivity should work. Unfortunately, there are people out there who claim it’s their school’s tradition and a source of town pride, or it’s a tribute to the Native American spirit. Look, traditions start anew and catch on pretty quickly. As far as town pride — shout this from the rooftops — the pride is in the students, the athletes and supportive adults. Not a freaking logo! And while there might be honorable intent to honor Native Americans, a town’s inadvertent old racist stereotype can’t trump an honorable culture.
I remain convinced most of the pushback is from many townsfolk who simply don’t want to be told what to do. Whatever those in charge want, they’ll take the opposite track. They’d go to the wall for One-Eyed Purple People Eaters if they thought the government didn’t want that nickname. We see their fringe out there these days, some carrying guns, screaming at cops and medical professionals to open bars and barbershops. They call themselves Patriots. So why no more Patriots nicknames in Connecticut high schools beyond Coventry?
Like I said, this isn’t new. The New Haven Register wrote a 2014 op-ed piece calling for the end of the offensive Native American high school nicknames. Six years later, I’m challenging the state media to put our integrity where we know our hearts are. No Native American nicknames.