Students in Goshen, Ind., are preparing to vote on a new mascot. After 90 years of calling themselves Redskins, they’ll decide to become Gladiators, Red Hawks, Spartans, or the Wolfpack.
Goshen’s decision makes it part of a movement to drop the R-word that has been gaining momentum among schools nationwide, even as the owner of Washington’s professional football team — the highest-profile Redskins around — resists calls to do the same.
Earlier this year, a school district near Buffalo, N.Y., morphed from the Lancaster Redskins into the Lancaster Legends. Schools in Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Oregon have made similar transformations. And California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) just signed a new law prohibiting schools from using the Redskins name or mascot.
There were 62 schools nationwide using the Redskins mascot in 2013, according to an investigation by the Capital News Service, a publication run by University of Maryland students. The publication also found that during the previous quarter-century, 28 schools had jettisoned the mascot.
In the small city of Goshen, in northern Indiana, the debate simmered on and off for decades: Should the high school retire its longtime mascot because Native Americans consider it offensive and racist?
Until now, the answer has always been no. The mascot was an important part of the school’s traditions, many alumni and school officials and students said, and they were reluctant to let it go.
But then something changed. The idea of dropping the mascot surfaced again in June, and this time it gained traction. The school board voted to retire the Redskins name as of Jan. 1, 2016, leading to next month’s vote on a replacement, according to the Elkhart Truth.
The Truth reported that Bob Duell, a school board member who considered himself a Redskin for 36 years, changed his views of the mascot after hearing directly from Native Americans about the pain that it caused them.
“I cannot be offensive to that many people,” Duell said two weeks before voting to get rid of the mascot, according to the Truth.
The debate in Goshen has echoed those elsewhere, pitting tradition against inclusivity. The Truth described the scene on a July night when the school board voted 5-2 to retire the mascot:
Clad in red “SAVE OUR MASCOT” T-shirts, Goshen graduates and current students told the board that the Redskins mascot honors Native Americans rather than disparages them.
“We use the name to show we have strength and pride each time we go out on the field or the ball diamond or the pool,” student Jesse Rhodes said.
But several Native Americans told the board that despite the good intentions, the name hurts.
“Please don’t tell us how to feel or argue we are being too sensitive,” Rochelle Hershberger, who is of Native American descent, told the board. “Don’t use the R-word to my face. I am not your mascot, my family is not your mascot and my children are not your mascot. I have a name. I am worthy of being seen as a person.”