All throughout this paper you’ve seen plenty of coverage on larger national stories reaching into Walton County. From the debate over confederate monuments to what needs to be done to deal with COVID-19, these national storylines are having huge impacts locally.
But this is a sports page, and one of the national issues playing out locally is the debate over the use of Native American mascots for sports teams, specifically the Redskin mascot.
If you look in the state of Georgia, there are only two schools that have a Redskin as their mascot: Bryan County and Social Circle. As far as schools with Native American-related mascots, there are two schools that use Braves as their mascot, two that use Chiefs, three that use Seminoles and 14 that use Indians. There are 14 schools that use Warriors as their mascots, with at least half of those, including Walnut Grove High School, using Native American imagery.
Recently the Washington Redskins, a lightning rod for debate over the Redskin moniker, announced they would do a review of the name. In recent weeks major sponsors of the Redskins have said they would like to see the name changed including FedEx, which paid $205 million in 1999 for the naming rights to the team’s stadium. Nike also took all Redskins-related apparel off the company’s website.
Team owner Dan Snyder has previously said he had no plans to change the team name. However, he released a statement when the organization announced it would review the name.
“This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field,” Snyder said.
Fun fact, Walter Wetzel, the former chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, was actually the one who helped Washington develop the Redskins’ helmet logo.
In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stripped the NFL team of six trademark registrations and said the name was disparaging, adding more fuel to the fire in the fight to change the team’s mascot.
But while the NFL franchise may be a step closer to changing its mascot, locally Social Circle school officials don’t seem to be in a hurry to change their mascot.
Look, I’m not calling for the mascot to be changed because I’m overly offended by it. Let’s be honest, while I do have some Cherokee blood in me from my great-grandmother, I’m a white guy who grew up in Walton County. I’m privileged enough to say the name Redskins doesn’t personally have an impact me.
But it is an offensive term to some people. Redskin is clearly defined as a racial slur for Native Americans in the same way the N word is for Black people. That’s not up for debate.
Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation, told The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz, while Schultz was still at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that getting the Washington Redskins to change their name have been the primary focus for his group, adding that the nickname is a “dictionary-defined slur that no one would ever use in polite conversation.”
But as far as other Native American-related mascots — like Indians, Braves, Chiefs, etc. — Barkin wasn’t completely against it.
“A larger discussion needs to take place about Native American mascots in general,” Barkin said. “Are they appropriate and are we truly honoring the culture? Native Americans are trivialized as mascots or relics from the past.”
Colleges like Florida State (Seminoles), Utah (Utes) and Central Michigan (Chippewas) have gotten approval from the various tribes to use those mascots. I’d go as far to say those programs have done a good job of honoring the Native American culture.
I can make the argument that Social Circle, despite the Redskin moniker, has honored Native Americans with multiple successful sports programs including a dynasty of a wrestling program.
My suggestion is that if Social Circle is so worried about keeping the Native American imagery as part of its mascot, change the mascot name to something like Indians, Braves, Chiefs or Warriors.
Bottom line is there needs to be dialogue on the mascot at Social Circle. It may not change, or it might, but there needs to be a deeper discussion between school officials and those wanting the name changed.