Lancaster to change mascot: making progress in our own backyard

by Justin Smith

Opinion Contributor

About a year ago, one of the stories making national headlines was the movement to change the Washington Redskins team name in the National Football League. Of course, since Dan Snyder is committed to his bigotry, the name is staying for now. However, I was excited when I realized that we were able to make some progress on the same issue right in our own backyard. Lancaster High School made the decision to get rid of the Redskins name and mascot.

I did not go to Lancaster, but I have many close acquaintances that do. For the last few years, I have been quite disturbed to see the Redskins name and logo on the sports uniforms that they wear. I didn’t say anything at the time. If you need a jersey to wear, and that’s the jersey you have, because that’s the school you go to, then I figured the blame was more on the school than on the kids.

Sure, it’s still wrong to wear the jersey, but could I be sure I would not have worn the jersey? I’m not sure. I would like to think I would have done something, but sometimes you have to work with what you have. My only point here being that I, like probably many people, had a fairly close connection to the issue.

Before I continue, I think what’s important in all of this is that the school did make the right decision. This is something to celebrate. With that said, I was quite disheartened at some of the reaction I heard from people I know, some of whom attend Lancaster. Rather than celebrate their school’s progress, they lamented the loss of their mascot. Now, I wrote previously about why the term Redskins is offensive in a Griffin article last year, so I won’t rehash that. It will suffice to say that we probably would not have allowed them to be the Lancaster Jews, or insert almost any other group.

So, what I can’t understand is, why is there any resistance to the change? The term is offensive — or, if you want to parse words, the term at least offends a great number of people — so why not just change it? What is Lancaster really losing here? Yes, they lose the old name, but it’s just a name. They can keep all the sports teams. Names change all the time. What does it really matter what the name is?

I hear an odd argument that the name is tradition. I’ll put it in the context of my own high school. We were the Spartans. Now, let’s suppose the good people of Sparta were offended by this. Would I resist changing the name? No. Why do I care what my high school’s team names and mascot are? Who am I to say “No, my school’s right to the term Spartans trumps your right to avoid being offended?” But let’s just be honest about it: the terms Redskins is particularly offensive. It represents a distinctly Eurocentric view of an ethnic group. It implies that the first thing to notice about Native Americans is the color of their skin because they’re not white. But again, my intention is not to get into detail about this.

Although I’m less than pleased with some of the reaction I’ve seen around me, I think it’s a mistake to focus on that. This is a time for celebration. The Lancaster School Board ought to be commended for their decision. It’s fairly amazing to me that the term Redskins has been commonplace for as many years as it has, but I think that one day, sooner rather than later, no one would dare to name a sports team “the Redskins.”

So, while the Lancaster School Board’s decision seems particularly enlightened right now, in perhaps a few short years, we’ll only be wondering why this was even a debate in the first place. A bad habit can be difficult to break, but once broken, it becomes impossible to see why it was begun in the first place. In other words, if no team were called the Redskins, could you see anyone arguing that a team should be called that? I’m not sure that those who fight in favor of the term can be dissuaded, but time will be their undoing. Until then, these small steps forward are good and should be celebrated.

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