EDITORIAL: It’s time to question a warlike high school mascot

If sports team mascots had anything to do with winning games, Wisconsin’s professional football team would never have made it the Super Bowl.

Anyone who thinks the mascot of the Green Bay NFL team is inspiring or heroic must know something about meat packing that most folks haven’t figured out. The Packers, those fearsome lords of the frozen tundra, are named after a company that packed meat into tin cans.

Team mascots and nicknames are more about words and images for T-shirts and other rah-rah items than influencing athletic performance.

But they are in the news in Wisconsin in light of a revived movement to persuade high schools to give up the use of Native American nicknames for their sports teams—like Warriors, the Ozaukee High School mascot name.

A decade ago, when the push against Native American mascots was so intense in Wisconsin that it resulted in a state law that empowered the state superintendant of public education to force schools to drop such names, this editorial page defended the use of one by Ozaukee High.

A Press editorial pointed out that the Warriors nickname was intended as a tribute to such perceived positive characteristics of Native Americans as bravery and strength and was meant to inspire the same in young athletes.            

That remains true, yet the case against the use of such mascots has grown stronger as the understanding of Native American sensibilities has increased, making it clearer than ever that many Native Americans are offended by nicknames and caricatures such as Ozaukee’s fierce visage of an American Indian that stereotype their ancestors as bloodthirsty warriors.

In its long campaign against the use of Native American references as mascots, the National Congress of American Indians has described them as negative stereotypes that injure “America’s first peoples” and cause them to be targets of discrimination. A number of civil rights organizations have taken up their cause, as has the American Psychological Association, which maintains that schools using such mascots “are teaching stereotypical, misleading and insulting images of American Indians.”

Now Wisconsin school boards are being asked to endorse a resolution to be considered by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards that calls for state legislation to prohibit schools from using Native American mascots and imagery.

Regardless of what the Northern Ozaukee School Board decides to do about the resolution, the recharging of the controversy should be seen as an opportunity to reconsider the Warriors mascot.

The board should address the question of whether Ozaukee High, a school with a stellar reputation in both the academic and athletic spheres, should be using a mascot-nickname-logo that is considered offensive by a segment of the population.

Eleven Native American tribes have roots in Wisconsin. Roughly 1,000 public school students in  the state identify as American Indians.

Though it is no doubt true that many Ozaukee High alumni are loyal to the Warriors mascot and that current OHS athletes are proud to be considered “warriors” on fields and gym floors, the importance of the school’s team mascot should not be overrated. Many schools have retired Native American mascots without reports of student or alumni uprisings or diminished school spirit.

Besides, to get back to the Packers example, the evidence that the choice of mascots has zero impact on team success is irrefutable. Were it otherwise, how could a Major League baseball team named after cuddly bear cubs be the Milwaukee Brewers’ nemesis? Or in college football, how could an Oregon team nicknamed the Ducks be a national power? Or in Wisconsin high school competition, how could the Monroe Cheesemakers win state championships?

That doesn’t change the fact that every high school needs a mascot, preferably a likeable one that does not offend an ethnic group. If Ozaukee High can’t bear to part with the Warrior name, it could at least show its good intentions by replacing that angry image of a warpainted Native American warrior.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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