“You mostly hear [the old name] from alums,” from “the parent generation,” said student body president Jannie Kamara, born in 1999, the daughter of Sierra Leonean immigrants. Very occasionally she might hear it from an alumnus visiting a classroom and warbling about yore. In the category of younger generations pegging the eccentricity of the older, she achieved a quintessence when she said amiably, “I think the alumni are adorable.”
“We’ve gotten over it,” said alumnus Steve Snyder, an Oxford fixture and former mayor whose 39 years at the university brimmed with a range of jobs from the president’s office to interim athletic director (twice). “Most people have gotten over it. A vast majority of people have gotten over it. There is still one guy. One guy, you can hear him at basketball games, football games, hockey games, and every once in a while, you can hear him, ‘Go Redskins.’ He’s got this loud voice.”
“Nope, never comes up,” said Wayne Embry, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member who played at Miami from 1955 to 1958 and for three NBA teams before general managing three more and chairing Miami’s Board of Trustees at the heavy moment of nickname change. “I went down there a couple of times in the past year, the games, and it never came up.”
Chris Vinel, born in 1999, a senior and the editor in chief of the Miami Student, imagines he can count the “Redskins” discussions he has heard on his two hands with maybe even fingers left over. Said senior Bennett Wise from Warrenton, Va., born in 1999, “The only time you will is if some random guy throws on a crew neck that has it on it.” Maybe 40 or 50 percent of students “would probably think it was RedHawks all along.”
Oh, wait, there was that one frat brother.
He proudly wore the throwbacks.
“It was more looked at as ‘old school’ rather than hateful or revered,” Wise said.
For a considerable while, a Miami logo with a Native American head lingered high upon a football stadium wall, amid other Mid-American Conference logos. Wise had to avoid any depiction of it while producing video for the athletic department but said anyway, “I don’t think anybody really ever noticed it.”
It, too, succumbed, in November 2019.
The old word dwells mainly in the verbal tumbleweed of odd conversations.
“We still get people occasionally asking for ‘Redskins’ logos or the Indian head,” said John DuBois, whose family has run the institution DuBois Bookstore since 1945, “and we just kind of have to inform them the university doesn’t allow that anymore.” Nor may they buy the trash can on the shelf.
“It’s not uncommon for people to post [on social media] about it, especially those who are angry,” said Kara Strass, director of Miami Tribe Relations at the campus Myaamia Center, which fosters unity between the school and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, which migrated in 1846 after removal from Ohio and Michigan and whose long relationship with the school tightened after 1996 when the tribe requested the name change. “I think the anger comes primarily from alumni who were at Miami during that time.”
Then came news in July, sending an editor in chief to old news.
“When the Washington Football Team announced that name change,” Vinel said, “I just kind of went back and read up on Miami’s change a little bit. Back in the day, they were apparently very mad about it.”
Back in the day, they were very mad about it.
“People were so adamantly against the name change,” Embry said.
“Resistance was enormous,” said Peter Rose, a classics professor emeritus who helped forge the change. “One frustrated woman wrote to me that I’d robbed her of all her happy memories.”
“We went through a very, very tumultuous time,” including a fear donations might crater, said Eric Hyman, then Miami’s athletic director.
Back then, you might hear people “yelling at each other in bars,” 1997 graduate Jeanne Johnson Holmes said from North Carolina. “I know teachers were trying to have thoughtful, productive conversations, but a lot of them didn’t have cultural competence themselves. So it ended up going south really fast. I don’t even remember a productive conversation. Ever.”
So as everyone approached the key forum in September 1996, university president James C. Garland warned the 6-foot-8 Embry, as Embry recalls: “‘This could be a pretty bad meeting, could be very raucous, so we’re going to have security, for you guys, to and from the meeting.’”
He recalls a packed room with 10 speakers each way, and that it “got pretty emotional, both ways.”
Said Myaamia Center’s Strass: “I think that when the Miami Tribe asked for the change, Miami University didn’t see this tribe as just an entity. They were people that they knew. I think that the experience for Native Americans, to a larger extent in the past, the average American’s view of Native Americans is wrapped up in something that is not real. It’s all about westerns and cowboys and Indians and things you see in advertising. Most people have never met a Native American and have never asked them what the experience is like.” The mascot, the horse, the drum, the “powwow dancing,” she said, “didn’t create an authentic educational experience.”
So there came a moment. It involved Richard T. Farmer, the trustee, alumnus and magnate who built business-supply giant Cintas and for whom Miami’s business school is named. Said Embry, “When he heard several Native American kids, heard them testify, he nudged me on the shoulder and he said: ‘Wayne, I didn’t realize this hurt people. We’ve got to change the name.’ ”
The board voted 7-1 to do so.
A generation later, the killing of George Floyd in May 2020 would spur protests that spurred corporate reckoning that spurred the Washington NFL team to scrap “Redskins” suddenly after refusing protractedly. Black Lives Matter “helped open up a lot of these issues because they’re all tied, because it’s about otherness,” said Holmes, a human resources consultant and adjunct management professor who can review the 1990s and spot the parallels.
“As a person of color on that campus, it was salient for me because it was another example of not being an individual and being part of a group that wasn’t able to control their own identity,” she said. A Black leader, vice president for student affairs Myrtis Powell, championed the name change.
Meanwhile, Black students had their own familiar agonies.
Holmes loves the school now but didn’t then. Her undergraduate years included three times when police stopped cars carrying her friends and herself and said, “You guys fit the description of someone who robbed the pizza delivery guy.” Then: “Just being detained for an hour, an hour and a half, just sitting in the car, wondering,” she said. “And this was before most people had cellphones.”
A rumor swirled about a Black campus rapist, during which two Black male friends visited Holmes’s dorm to study. “Within 10 minutes, police surrounded the dorm because they were told ‘some strange Black men’ were roaming around the dorm,” she said. “That wasn’t even possible, because I had escorted them in.”
Eventually, she said: “They put us in the gym and they apologized, but they didn’t do it publicly. No one ever admitted that there was no serial Black rapist. It was a bad situation. It was bad. We actually ended up shutting down the administration office. We did a sit-in.” Her parents had been civil rights activists in Cleveland in the 1960s, so she called her mother, Wanda, and said, “‘Today, we’re going to do a sit-in.’ She just got really quiet. Then she said, ‘We did all of our work so you wouldn’t have to do it.’ And she just cried.”
The great sportswriter Tom Archdeacon of the Dayton Daily News interviewed Holmes when the nickname changed, and she said, “I’m sick and tired of people saying this didn’t hurt anybody. Obviously, it did.”
Elsewhere, a wariness reigned. Hyman, the former athletic director, said of that time: “You don’t know the long-term impact [with donors]. And you’re very nervous about it.” Over at the bookstore, they had themselves a pickle, what with universities having amassed power over their apparel through formidable licensing agreements. “It’s my alma mater,” DuBois said, “but they also either sued me or they tried to sue me two or three times.”
“They sent us a letter: As of this date, you can no longer order ‘Redskins’ merchandise,” he said. “Me being a gambler, I ordered a lot because I thought that would be a draw for alumni.” It was. “It was, like, through the roof when they announced it.”
Then one day in 1997, the man came. The man worked in the university administration. The man was nice. The man was Snyder. The man had called ahead — a planned and agreed-upon burglary! “It wasn’t funny at the time,” Snyder laughed.
He steered a van to the back of the store. He entered, swooped up everything “Redskins,” departed. “Very nice guy,” DuBois said. “I wouldn’t say he was as apologetic, but he did it as smoothly as it could be done.”
Next came fear the clothes might start popping up secondhand, such as from the thrift shop down the road. “The purchasing director took it to his office and had his staff cut it all up,” Snyder said. “Got the biggest conference room they had in the building, with a big table on it, and had his staff tear it up.”
“My dad went to Miami,” DuBois said. “My mom went to Miami. I went to Miami. My sister went to Miami. … I have mixed feelings. I graduated as a ‘Redskin.’ I get the idea [of changing]. My class ring — not that I wear it — still has ‘Redskins’ on it. … I think that it is now looked upon in a much harsher light than it was back when I was in school or thereafter. I think it’s considered kind of in the same direction as the n-word.”
By July 1, 1997, the incremental change finished, 25 years after the tribe agreed to a resolution stating the name would stay “as long as the wind shall blow,” one year after it decided it couldn’t stomach it anymore.
“I got calls and mail and threats and all that. It wasn’t pretty,” Embry said. “After a few years, it all went away, and we were Miami RedHawks.”
“It died a fairly quick death,” said Hyman, who also said: “If you were living it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it was a long time. But looking back, it went by pretty quickly” — especially at a school not given to foaming at the mouth about sports.
By now, DuBois’ giant store has all imaginable RedHawks gear — with some reminding how Miami was a university before Florida was a state — but only two “Redskins” relics, a sign and a trash can, near the counter, looking like museum pieces. For “Miami Redskins” gear, the aggrieved can try raffish websites that, DuBois said, “keep popping up all over the place.”
By now, 48 years after the University of Utah jettisoned “Redskins” and 24 years after Miami did likewise, here came Washington. The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma did not respond to interview requests but issued a statement in July saying it “stands firmly against misrepresentation through stereotypical images and names which only serve to demean and misrepresent First Nations peoples.”
Where some 13 Miami Tribe students studied and graduated from Miami in 1991-97, some 95 have since. “That just continues to grow year after year,” Strass said, as does the cross-cultural, mutual learning.
And then, whoa: “I don’t think we ever saw our donations to intercollegiate athletics, I don’t think they ever went down that much, if they went down at all,” Snyder said. Donations don’t hinge on nicknames after all, he said. “It acknowledges the experience you had going to Miami, how much it meant to you.”
And so: “You kind of look back and say, ‘Why was that such a big deal?’”
“We know ‘Swoop’ very well,” Kamara, the student body president, said of the RedHawks mascot. “We love ‘Swoop.’ ”
“It’s history now,” Embry said. “It’s good.” Around the Washington Football Team, he said, “It will [simmer down]. People will reflect back on it and realize that Native American people want respect and dignity.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Miami student Bennett Wise as Bennett Webb.