The NFL’s Washington Football Team retired a mascot last summer considered offensive to Native Americans. Cleveland’s Major League baseball team is in the process of doing the same.
Why, wonder Twin Valley High School juniors Jackson Bonds and Arden Wolfe, can’t their school do the same?
They launched the Retire The Raider campaign at the school, formed a group of student activists and have collected more than 4,200 names in an online petition.
“The Raider is a racist caricature of an indigenous person,” Bonds wrote on the petition started last summer, “and I do not believe that a person’s race should be a mascot.”
“We want to unify our school,” Wolfe said, “we don’t want divide our school.”
The school district uses a “TV” icon as its main logo. It’s displayed on the stadium field and on the basketball court. That’s the only logo visible on the website.
The school still uses images of Native Americans, some wearing a traditional head dress, in its gyms, in programs and photos. One logo includes tomahawks.
“The head dress is something that is sacred to Native American culture,” Bonds said. “I don’t think it should be used with a high school mascot.”
Most offensive, Wolfe said, is the mascot costume that frequents sporting events and other school functions. It features an over-sized, cartoonish-looking head and a fierce facial expression.
“Our main focus is retiring the physical mascot,” Wolfe said.
So far her group has gained little traction with the school administration.
She and classmates attempted to form a Retire The Raider club but have been unsuccessful. They have requested the school select a different mascot but have seen no movement. The school has not changed the imagery.
Dr. Robert Pleis, Twin Valley superintendent, said in a statement following an interview request from the Reading Eagle that the school district’s “primary focus” right now is responding to the coronavirus pandemic and that it will “not consider new initiatives” until that health concern is resolved.
“Having a conversation about a new mascot is a huge undertaking,” high school Principal William Clements told the Eagle. “At this point it would be inappropriate to take on an issue like that with everything we’re working on.”
Bonds understands as much and realizes changing a school’s mascot and all the icons that go with it would be a costly undertaking.
“We see this as a long-term goal,” Bonds said. “We’re hoping in the future the change can eventually happen.”
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder withstood mounting public pressure for years over a name change before finally succumbing last summer. That came only after FedEx, a major corporate sponsor that owns naming rights to the team’s stadium, and Nike pressured him into submission. He faced losing millions of dollars had he not complied.
The Cleveland Indians, who have featured a cartoon image of a Native American for decades, announced last year that they will retire the team name and its Native American images.
Dozens of colleges across the nation have changed or altered their Native American names and imagery over the past 40-plus years.
Marquette switched from Warriors to Golden Eagles in 1994. St. John’s changed from Redmen to Red Storm in 1995. Miami University (of Ohio) ditched Redskins in 1997 and are now RedHawks.
North Dakota switched from the Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks in 2012. Indiana University of Pennsylvania went from the Indians to the Crimson Hawks in 2007.
Stanford was way ahead of the curve: It dropped Indians in 1972 and has been the Cardinal since 1981.
The NCAA in 2005 adopted a policy requesting member schools maintain an “atmosphere of respect for and sensitivity to the dignity of every person,” in regard to mascots.
The PIAA, Pennsylvania’s state governing body for high school athletics, does not have a policy regarding insensitive mascots. It considers that a matter for local school boards and administrations.
Maine has a law prohibiting schools from using mascots or names that depict or refer to Native American tribes. Tennessee, conversely, has a law that does the exact opposite, protecting schools that have Native American mascots.
More than 1,200 high schools across the nation use Native American team names, according to the website mascotdb.com. Indians, Warriors, Chiefs and Braves are the most common. Some schools still use nicknames such as Savages or Big Reds. More than 40 still use the name Redskins, according to a report on fivethirtyeight.com.
Pennsylvania, home to native tribes such as the Iroquois, Delaware, Susquehannock and Shawnee, has more than 60 high schools with Native American mascots, according to payouthcongress.org.
There are Braves at Pequea Valley, Warriors at Gettysburg and Indians at Donegal.
There are Raiders at Elco, Ridley, Waynesburg and Uniontown; and Red Raiders at Coatesville, Blue Ridge, Meyersdale and Montgomery.
In Berks County, Twin Valley is the only school with a nickname linked to Native Americans. Most, such as Hamburg Hawks, Oley Valley Lynx, Kutztown Cougars, Schuylkill Valley Panthers and Fleetwood Tigers are associated with animals.
Two Pennsylvania schools recently dropped nicknames considered by some to be offensive.
A Drop the Chop campaign at Radnor successfully resulted in the elimination of the Raider mascot at the Delaware County school in September.
A month earlier Unionville High School in Chester County retired its Indian logo. A new mascot is expected to be announced next week.
At Neshaminy High School, Bucks County, a battle has raged for years over the school’s Redskins nickname.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission last year issued a statement calling for the school to stop using a “negative stereotype” of Native Americans, but the school is challenging that decision. It has spent more than $400,000 fighting a name change.
Bonds, who plays tennis at Twin Valley, and Wolfe, who is on the track team, said they have felt a backlash from students who don’t want to see the Raiders name go away, including from other athletes.
“I can understand why someone might take it personally,” Bonds said. “Raiders are a big part of their activity. It would be a be a big change.”
Black Lives Matter rallies across the nation last summer led to companies changing racially insensitive advertising images, such as Aunt Jemima’s syrup or Uncle Ben’s rice. The movement also ramped up interest in the long-simmering battle over the way Native Americans are depicted as school mascots.
That, and the decision by the Washington Football Team, spurred Wolfe and others at Twin Valley into action.
“We want to educate our community on why this is wrong and why we should change for the better,” Wolfe said. “Racism isn’t a political issue, it’s a moral issue.”
She has spoken to Native American groups and visited South Dakota last summer to learn more about their culture.
“The Native Americans I’ve talked to told me that what offends them most (about our mascot) is the mean face,” Wolfe said. “It does not represent Native Americans in a good way. (They believe) it is the Walmart version of their culture. It makes (them) seem less human.
“The word ‘raider’ has very negative connotations. That’s not a positive representation of who we are at Twin Valley.”