Goshen News, Goshen, IN

May 5, 2013

What’s in a name?: Calls continue for teams to change American Indian mascot names


— GOSHEN — For the past several decades there has been a nationwide push to eliminate Native American-related nicknames and mascots for high school, college and professional sports teams. The latest battle revolves around the Washington (D.C.) Redskins, a storied professional franchise of the National Football League.

Just last month the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission urged owner Dan Snyder to change the “archaic and racially stereotyped name of the Washington XXXskins football team.” Just last week a Washington D.C. City Councilman did the same.

In Michigan, the state’s Department of Civil Rights has filed a complaint against 35 schools to prohibit the use of Native American nicknames.

So, what does all this mean for communities such as Goshen, where the term “Redskins” has been used for nearly 90 years as the nickname for high school athletic teams?

“I don’t think you’re going to see local politicians get out in front of the issue,” said Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, a 1967 graduate of GHS. “If there’s a community effort that causes the (Goshen Community School) corporation to change the name, fine. But it isn’t going to be me.”

The issue has been addressed before by a previous Goshen Community Schools administration, but it was determined by a special committee that the “Redskins” nickname would remain.

Nickname evolves

Newspaper archives show that Goshen High School athletic teams were once called “The Red Menace” in the mid-1920s and often “The Crimson” or “The Crimson and White” before that. According to a 1963 GHS student handbook, the name, “Redskins,” came into use in the late 1920s when Goshen had some of its best athletic teams in school history.

Other nicknames for Goshen High School teams found in Goshen Daily News-Times archives include “Red Ramblers” for track and even the “Palefaces,” for junior varsity teams.

As national pleas for change grow louder and legal action initiated by Native American groups against school districts keep popping up, the Redskin nickname issue is becoming harder for communities tucked away in their own culture to ignore, even if the topic isn’t exactly welcome conversation at Goshen Community Schools.

Coaches who were contacted regarding this article indicated they were directed not to comment on the nickname topic and funneled inquiries to GHS Principal Barry Younghans and Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth.

“We treat (the name) Redskins with respect,” said GHS Athletic Director Larry Kissinger, “and will deal with any changes that need to be made (if it comes up).”

Kissinger declined further comment on the matter.

Younghans, who is completing his first school year as GHS’s principal, has been with the corporation for 21 years, the past seven as an administrator. He said the nickname issue has been brought up several times that he can remember, usually from an outside group. In recent years, Younghans pointed out, school officials have taken steps to de-emphasize the Redskins nickname. Athletic uniforms, for example, identify the teams as simply “Goshen,” and an Indian head logo was removed from the main gym floor, he added.

That Indian head logo, however, has been framed and now hangs on the gym wall. The high school gymnasium also includes the word “Redskins” painted along the baseline, the phrase, “Redskin Country” painted on the west wall under the scoreboard and a wooden Indian chief statue chained to the wall on the second level behind the west goal.

The Goshen football helmet decals used to mirror those of the NFL’s Washington Redskins logo, but were changed last decade. A large “G” replaced the Indian chief head. Recently the helmet logos were changed to depict a spear.

“We try to be sensitive to concerns,” Younghans said, “while understanding the place the name ‘Redskins’ has in our school’s history.”

Goshen has had its brightest athletic success on the football field, qualifying for four state championship games, winning titles in 1978 and 1988.

Time to re-examine?

Superintendent Woodworth, on the job since July 2012, is keenly aware of how touchy a subject the Redskins nickname is in this community. It is a name that many may find offensive, yet it is a name that thousands of Goshen High School alumni have worn proudly on their chest while representing this community on the fields and floors of competition.

While it may be a polarizing subject, Woodworth said she has not personally received any comments about the GHS mascot/nickname, although she does know of complaints registered to previous administrations. Woodworth also indicated she would be open to further discussion on the matter.

“If this concern re-emerges in our community,” Woodworth said, “perhaps it would be time to organize a study committee again to re-examine all aspects of the current GHS mascot.”

Younghans said he believes the nickname issue belongs with the school board and superintendent, not in the principal’s office.

“As a principal, I’ve chosen not to take it on,” Younghans said. “It’s an investment of time and with what my job entails, I’m not willing to fight that battle and feel there are greater issues in education to be addressed.”

School board president Jane Troup seems to feel much the same.

“Right now we are so concerned with the grades and safety of the students that (the Redskins nickname is) not even an issue that has crossed my mind,” Troup said. “I know it’s one of our goals to look at that at some point, but right now we really have to work on getting our scores up. ... To me, that’s the name of the game right there.”

Troup said she can remember doing the “Tomahawk Chop,” along with the rest of the student body, at sporting events when she was a student at GHS. The chop has been phased out, she said. Troup also pointed to efforts to de-emphasize the Indian head logo.

If there was pressure to change the nickname, Troup said it would simply be a matter of the board voting one way or the other.

“I’m not really sure what the reaction would be in Goshen,” Troup said. “Its always been the Goshen Redskins. ... My gut feeling is that it would probably be the graduates who went to Goshen a long time ago who would probably have the hardest time with changing the mascot.”

‘Never liked the term’

Bob Duell was elected to the school board this past November, but served many years as GHS principal and assistant superintendent for the corporation. Speaking from his own experience, not as a current school board member, Duell said he had some teachers and community members come to him in the past who thought the term “Redskins” was offensive, but nobody really pressed the issue beyond that. Students, he remembered, were always pretty apathetic toward the nickname.

“When I was assistant superintendent we had a student that was from an Indian reservation who spent a year here,” Duell said. “I actually knew her because she lived with my son, who was a youth pastor. She was a quiet, shy person so didn’t say much, but I believe she told my son that (Redskins) was offensive but she wasn’t going to say anything since she was new.”

Duell said some of the toning down of the Indian images may have been the result of a committee formed by former Superintendent Kent Evans more than a decade ago. Duell said he was not on that committee. Duell also said there are radio announcers who broadcast Goshen sporting events who don’t use, or limit the use of, the term Redskins.

“The only view I will give you,” Duell said, “is that I have never liked the term from the time I was in high school in New York and that was a long time ago.”

Duell declined to answer on whether he favored a change, stating that any type of action on the current nickname would be a decision made by many people.
“It is a very tough issue,” he said, “and has many strong feelings in both directions.”