The Problem of School Mascots

Local Sports Talk Radio, as I have argued elsewhere, is the application of a handful of social sciences and economics, and a good sports talk radio show host, like Mike Schopp of WGR in Buffalo, (@shopptalk, who, by the way, is a scotch whisky connoisseur like yours truly), must fearlessly engage at all levels with some deftness, else his ratings plummet.

School mascots, particularly those of American Indian progeniture, are a source of anxiety, both for those who are offended by them and for those who have some emotional investment in preserving them. Today, June 3, 2015, Schopp made one of the most cogent arguments I have ever heard against maintaining these racist or near-racist mascots which hearken to a time of a peculiar American injustice.

For the record, I grew up a Washington Redskins football fan; in addition, my personal ancestry includes a fair measure of American Indian. It’s very difficult, on the one hand, to argue that the word “Redskins” is not at least vaguely racist and does not include some pretty hefty racist baggage in its etymology. On the other hand, the Washington Redskins is an NFL football franchise, not a 19th Century Army Cavalry unit scouring the western deserts for Apaches to kill. And it’s a bit of my childhood, right? We used to tease my dad that, when he spent time in the sun, his skin turned the color of the Washington Redskins mascot, and the franchise was championship-caliber at the time.

Washington-Redskins-Logo

The problem is fundamentalism. On the one side, it is essential to scour from view anything that bears a connection to a vile past. For example, if any person derives pleasure in such an image or name, then that person is participating as a belligerent in those past vile acts. On the other side, it is essential to maintain at all costs those mascots because they are ritualistic and deeply personal, occupying the same emotional space an animistic religion might. Taking those images and names away is literally removing a sacred totem.

These things really are contextual. As Mike Schopp remarked, “I am not emotionally attached to the mascot. I’m not making an argument that you should be like me; I’m just telling you how I am about it. I couldn’t care less if they changed my high school’s mascot to The Nachos or whatever. In fact, wouldn’t that be a great gimmick? ‘We’re The Nachos, and we give away free nachos at our football games.'”

Local sports talk radio was considering the topic because a local high school, Lancaster High, has recently changed its mascot, by vote of the student body, from the Redskins to the Legends. The vote to do so was an overwhelming majority.

I think this is brilliant. This non-argument argument gets right to the core: why are you emotionally involved in a mascot? Is it because you can’t be made by those liberal anti-culturalists to give away your childhood? Or your childishness? Yes? No? Maybe? Is it because you can’t stand those dunderheads who won’t see how offensive they are to people who aren’t a member of the oppressive American middle class?

All right, then. Why don’t we vote on it? In fact, at the high school level, or even the college level, why don’t we vote on the school mascot every eight years? That way, two full classes can come and go, enjoying the important cultural unifying effect of being a Warrior or a Bullet or a Bear or what-have-you, and then, the new kids can reconsider. While they’re reconsidering, we can talk to each other sweetly about what we want our mascot to be and why we want it to be that one and not another one.

Let’s take, for example, the Washington Wizards. In the unlikely event that the KKK becomes ascendant in the Midwest, perhaps Wizards becomes a terribly evocative mascot. Is it time to change? Well, here your arguments for and against would be helpful, and the local sports talk radio ratings would be sky high.

Let’s take an example concerning aesthetics: most collective singular mascots, like the Heat, are horrible. But some, like the Crimson Tide, are heavenly. Fierce, silly, whimsical, retrospective, reactive: the tug-of-war among the various factions of fans would create quite the marketing bonanza!

More importantly, I think a regular reconsideration of school mascots would loosen the bonds of fundamentalism. Let’s say that I honestly believe that Redskins doesn’t really harm anyone, but you do. Your job becomes one of persuading me. We take a vote. I win. Your job still remains that of persuasion, because you know another vote is coming.

On the other hand, after some time, perhaps you come to think that maybe, just maybe, you’re expending gigawatts of energy on something that might be a burnt-out 60-watt lightbulb, and you just let it go. Who knows?

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