MANY OF YOU MAY HAVE THOUGHT the MSHS nickname debate a settled issue, having been decided based on the results of a survey put out by the MAPS Board of Education. Well, it isn’t.
At last Monday night’s meeting, board Vice-President Glenn Sarka made a motion to include renewed discussion of what to do about our school’s controversial nickname on the upcoming meeting’s agenda. The motion was approved, but not unanimously, signaling a still clear division of opinion within the board.
Like most local media, I’ve covered this subject more than once. I previously suggested the board should quit kicking the can down the road and make a decision on the future of the MSHS mascot and nickname, one way or the other. It looks like that’s what Sarka has in mind.
To bring you up to speed, here’s an abbreviated version of where we’re at… although keeping it simple is easier said than done. There are many layers and a few contradictions that result in this being a situation not easily resolved.
For the past twenty plus years, there’s been an effort afoot to change the nickname from Redmen (and Redettes) to something more culturally appropriate. If you’ve been following the story, you know it’s not just a local issue… it’s happening everywhere, at every level of organized sports.
It came to a head about three years ago at a well-attended board meeting with each side passionately presenting their case. The board subsequently established a committee to look into the issue and report back with a recommendation. Their work included a survey which showed about 3 out of 5 respondents favored keeping the Redmen moniker in place.
However, based on other findings and likely some personal opinions, the committee’s report recommended the school move on from the Redmen.
A brief look at the history of where the Redmen name originated suggests that a school administrator from many years ago, with a nod to his previous affiliation with Harvard, created a red sweater theme for the school’s athletes. From there the term Redmen was deemed the school’s nickname. No harm done, right? It’s just a color.
At some point along the way, Native American references became a part of the identity, including a since phased-out Indian Chief head which was frequently used as a graphic logo.
Those who favor retaining the nickname cite two entirely different accounts about the meaning of Redmen. Some say it’s just a color, based on the sweater story, while others contend it’s a salute to our Native American community and does not, in any way, represent a negative stereotype.
Proponents of change suggest that it is indeed a negative stereotype and the time has come to find a nickname that an already marginalized group doesn’t have to accept as some sort of homage.
One problem is the name itself… Redmen. How much of a racial slur is it? Certainly not on the level of the n-word, or others that have been since-retired. But at the very least, it emits the suggestion of cultural insensitivity.
What do our area Native Americans think of it? There doesn’t seem to be any solid consensus one way or the other, although a number of Native American organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians, have come out against the use of such mascots and nicknames.
So, come July 17th, Kaufman Auditorium will no doubt be filled with advocates for both sides. Pity those on the dais. They’ve heard it all before, and likely will be getting plenty of input from the citizenry in the days leading up to the meeting.
The Keep the Redmen Name contingent continues to cite the survey, suggesting the results should be respected and the name retained. Apparently Sarka has called the survey “flawed,” by which he may mean that it wasn’t scientifically based, as it depended only on the opinions of those who chose to respond.
Further, it wasn’t a vote. It has minimal influence in actually determining the direction of the issue. It’s merely one tool the committee and board has at their disposal when deciding the future of the nickname.
Though no hands have been thrown, the issue has predictably become a little testy, pitting Redmen traditionalists against a segment of our population whose apparent goal is to see that our school doesn’t end up on what they feel is the wrong side of history.
To be sure, there are no people here with bad intentions… just people with differing opinions. Hopefully all involved understand that.
Which brings me to the MAPS Board of Education… seven people who only want what’s best for our students and community. It’s been suggested by those who want to retain the name that rather than wasting time on an issue as trivial as a nickname, they should be focusing on the real issues facing our educators, and leave the name be. If you were to ever attend one of their meetings, you’d discover they are, in fact, able to do all those things at once. And when it comes to our kids, very few matters are trivial.
If the next meeting actually brings about a decision, the feeling here is the days of the Redmen are numbered. The fact that a majority voted to put this issue on the agenda hints a change is in the air. But who knows? A large and vocal turnout of those who want to keep the name could sway a vote. However, I suspect minds have already been made up, regardless of any public outcry.
There are legitimate justifications available to both sides. If we keep the name, we can fall back on the red sweater story, or contend, rightly so, that calling our athletes Redmen and Redettes has no ill intent, but rather does call to mind the strength and bravery of the Native American community. What’s wrong with that?
Conversely, the Time for Change folks can reference the national trend of doing away with such mascots, as well as a number of studies which show such nicknames can, in fact, have a detrimental psychosocial effect on the well-being of students and school associates. The Michigan High School Athletic Association, though not mandating change, encourages programs to have “thoughtful conversations” and to “consider all viewpoints.”
One question that might help frame the issue is… if you were starting your program today, would you consider Redmen as a potential nickname? For obvious reasons, probably not.
Aside from an actual citywide vote to determine the future of the nickname, the decision lies solely with our elected board. We put our trust in them to make the tough calls, and this certainly qualifies. If the board votes for change, recalls have been mentioned, as well as suggestions to vote against any upcoming request for additional school funding. Really? If you don’t like the outcome you’ll be willing to take it out on our students?
If we remain the Redmen, those hoping for change must respect the board’s decision and try to make the best of it. Though I don’t have one in mind, we can probably agree… there are better nicknames. But, although we might recognize an insensitive element to Redmen, thousands of students have come and gone and few seem to be worse for the experience.
If, however, as I suspect, the board dictates the end of the current identity, you can rest assured your personal history as a Redman or Redette will remain intact and unchanged. Your Tatler will provide proof of that.
Finally, there’s this. Come the morning of July 18th, as will surely be documented by the indefatigable photographer Bugsy Sailor, the sun will rise in the east. Regardless of what the board decides, it will become incumbent upon both sides to accept the decision and move forward with civility and understanding. Wouldn’t that be a good lesson for our kids?