Oregon debate over mascots far from over

Oregon officials spurred debate over whether Native American mascots are appropriate. But one thing is clear, the term Redskins should be eliminated.

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Team mascots, whether for high schools, colleges or professional athletic teams, have emotional ties to those on the team or who cheer for the teams.

Cougars, Huskies, Ducks and Beavers, as well as Lions, Tigers and Bears (oh my), are important. So, too, are names associated with Native Americans — Indians, Braves and Chieftains, for example.

So when the state of Oregon’s Board of Education imposed a policy banning all Native American mascot names — forcing eight current mascots into retirement — it planted the seeds for a brouhaha.

The Legislature stepped in to loosen the ban, approving legislation that allows Native American mascots to remain as long as schools get written permission from the nearest tribe.

But now Gov. John Kitzhaber believes the legislation is too broad, so he’s using his veto pen to keep it from becoming law. The governor said he prefers an approach in which schools could use the specific name of a tribe with that tribe’s permission, such as the Florida State Seminoles.

The debate is far from over — and not just in Oregon.

Since the 1970s, more than 600 high school and college teams in the country have eliminated their Native American nicknames and mascots.

Native American names — from Indians to Redskins — offend some Native Americans and others. The names promote stereotypes and, from their eyes, are depicted in a derogatory ways.

The counter to the concerns is that the act of adopting a nickname or mascot is a sign of respect as it becomes a symbol for that school.

The various positions are understandable. Given the emotions, on all sides, even attempting to reach compromise — as is evidenced in Oregon — is difficult.

But if reasonable people are truly offended by mascots linked to their heritage, their feelings must be considered.

Look at it this way. Would Braves or Redskins even be considered as nicknames today?

Braves, perhaps. As for Redskins, absolutely not!

So let’s start at the national level by eliminating Redskins as the nickname for the pro football team based in Washington, D.C. The term has a history of being used as a racial epithet outside of its NFL use.

After that, mascots that refer to any indigenous people should have a thoughtful look as to their appropriateness to the particular schools, communities and regions.

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