At this time of racial reckoning in this country, the issue of team mascots and monikers remains front and center in attention and discussion — especially in regard to how those team names and mascots portray Native Americans.
The debate stretches from professional sports, where the Washington football team of the NFL and the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball have decided to abandon their Indian-rooted names, to the college level to high schools. In Wisconsin, 28 schools have a name that references Native American culture.
In a state where Native American culture is deep rooted (count how many communities have Indian names) and 11 federally recognized tribes call Wisconsin home, there has been a push for several years by state officials to get schools to abandon the Indian team names and mascots. In 2010, then-Gov. Jim Doyle signed Act 250, a bill that allowed the state Department of Public Instruction to begin a review process if a complaint was received from a district resident (even if only a single resident) that a school’s nickname, mascot or logo is offensive.
According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, under that law, a hearing (conducted by the DPI) had to be scheduled within 45 days. Unless the state superintendent found the use of the nickname or team name, alone or in conjunction with a logo or mascot, was ambiguous as to whether it was race-based, the district had the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that its mascot or nickname did not promote discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping.
Doyle’s successor, Republican Scott Walker, overturned the law in 2013, saying it went too far — a viewpoint we share.
“If the state bans speech that is offensive to some, where does it stop?” Walker said in 2013, according to a report in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.
Now Gov. Tony Evers is resurrecting the issue. Like his Democrat predecessor Doyle, Democrat Evers wants teams to abandon the names some, including the Tribes, find offensive. But he has come up with a carrot approach rather than one that uses a stick, like Doyle’s.
As part of his biennial state budget proposal, Evers wants to use $400,000 of tribal casino revenue to create a grant program to help school district officials pay to adopt a new nickname or logo for school merchandise, team uniforms and scoreboards, among other costs, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
That’s a tiny portion of the $91 billion budget plan. It also takes the funds from money generated by gambling rather than directly from taxpayers.
This is a reasonable approach to the issue. But we still contend it is local school districts that have to make the decision, based on the feedback of their constituents.
La Crosse Central High School in February changed its mascot to the RiverHawks, choosing to drop its long-held moniker the “Red Raiders,” the Leader-Telegram reported. But the Cornell School District in Chippewa County and Mukwonago High School in Waukesha County are sticking with their respective names, Chiefs and Indians.