MEMBERS OF the board of education for the Lancaster school district in Upstate New York felt an obligation to “set an example” for students and the community. So despite a great deal of pressure — including threats they would be driven from office — board members decided to stop using a school mascot and team nickname that slurs Native Americans.
“We realize that traditions are sometimes hard to leave behind, but we do need to rethink traditions when they have become hurtful and perceived as disrespectful of others, even unintentionally,” said Superintendent Michael J. Vallely . It’s a message that sets an example we hope others will follow.
Monday’s unanimous decision by the Lancaster Central School District came over the objections of many in the crowd who, shouting and booing, packed the room. There’s no question there was affection for a name that has been an important tradition for the community for nearly 70 years. But, as school board members explained, their examination of the issue — which included discussions with students, parents and local Native American tribal leaders — left no doubt that the name was a slur. Equally important was the point that tradition is larger than what a sports team calls itself. The achievements of students, athletes and faculty did not, as board president Kenneth Graber said, happen “because of a word or a symbol.”
There was a veiled reference to Washington’s football team, which has the same name as that which Lancaster dropped but that, to date, sadly lacks the small school district’s thoughtful approach to the problem. Lancaster’s leaders are but the latest to realize that times have changed and so should they. How long must it take for the National Football League and its Washington franchise to absorb the lesson?
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