EDITORIAL: Erase hurtful images from team mascots

York Dispatch editorial board
Susquehannock logo on a banner at Susquehannock High School Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Washington’s professional football team is finally doing it.

Cleveland’s professional baseball team is finally doing it.

Now, all teams at every level — especially, middle school and high school programs — should follow suit and expunge hurtful, stereotypical and racially insensitive names and images from their team names and mascots.

The issue is being debated locally as the Southern York County School Board weighs the fate of the Susquehannock High School mascot — a depiction of a Native American warrior. The district last year charged its diversity committee with studying the issue and now plans a decision in the coming weeks.

More:Susquehannock High's mascot: Nearly 4,000 signed petition, but no one spoke up at meeting

More:Southern York County to decide on Susquehannock High School mascot in April

The board held a special hearing last week at which representatives from the National Congress of American Indians shared information and research about the harmful impacts of Native American mascots.

NCAI Vice President of Tribal Governance and Special Projects Ian Record explained to those in attendance how images like that used by Susquehannock portray Native Americans in a racist, stereotypical light.

Similar concerns led to the discontinuation of the names and mascots of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians — and none too soon. Both decisions, which are still in the process of being completed, came only after years of complaints about the particularly ugly imagery employed. Washington’s team name was flagrantly racist; Cleveland’s logo featured a cartoonishly vile caricature known as Chief Wahoo, which was discontinued in 2019.

Both teams continue to search for a new name.

Susquehannock wouldn’t face that challenge: The district is considering dropping only the high school’s mascot, not the name “Warriors.” Indeed, Record has said that the word “warriors” is not deemed offensive unless tied directly to Native American imagery.

What the district would be doing is joining the hundreds of organizations that have, in recent decades, retired mascots, images and nicknames that, even when well-intentioned, failed to honor or even accurately represent modern-day Native Americans. “Spoiler alert,” Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians, told the district: “It is not an honor.”

Judging from the response to last week’s presentation at the Southern York County School Board meeting, district parents may be in agreement. While more than 3,800 signed a recent petition in support of keeping the mascot, not a single member of the public voiced support for that position last week.

This not a district known for its reticence; past meetings on the topic have featured impassioned comment from the public. Perhaps the background and reasoning provided by the National Congress of American Indians informed deeper reflection. After all, it’s easy to support a petition asking whether a traditional mascot should be kept absent an understanding of the real harm it can cause to certain segments of the population.

The public will have one more chance to speak out on April 15, when the board plans to vote on the change. But, frankly, board members should by now have all the information they need to make what should be an easy decision. Racist Native American imagery — just like images depicting any other race or nationality in hurtful, stereotypical fashion — has no place anywhere in society, let alone on the banners and uniforms of our high school students.

There are all kinds of warriors — including those for social justice. Susquehannock High School should have no problem adopting a new, more positive, more appropriate mascot.