Just when Emily Greenberg and Catherine Borgstrom thought the controversy over the nickname Redskins was over, the world pulled them back in.
“I thought this was over until a few weeks ago,” said Borgstrom. “Then one day my father told me to sit down because he wanted to talk to me. I thought, ‘what now?’”
But the “what now” turned into a positive experience for the two 17-year old Cooperstown Central School seniors. As leaders in the campaign to change the CCS mascot earlier this year, they were invited to Washington to be part of the Oneida Nation’s “Change the Mascot” symposium about the National Football League team on Oct. 7 at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown.
“It was an exciting experience,” Greenberg said, “sort of overwhelming. We woke up at 7:30 in the morning to do an early interview with the local Fox affiliate. It was just a lot of cameras and a lot of press.”
“So many cameras,” Borgstrom added. “And a room filled with people.”
Borgstrom’s father, CCS Board of Education President David Borgstrom, sat on the panel with the two girls. Joining them were Oneida Nation president Ray Halbritter, two elected officials, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the president of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indians and Michael Friedman, a clinical psychologist, whose research has shown that names like Redskins and mascots like the one used by the Cleveland Indians are harmful.
“Dr. Friedman’s research is clear about how the word and the use of the mascots have had a negative effect on the (Indian) community,” Greenberg said. “It has an affect on self-esteem, suicide rates, divorce rates. Pretty much everything negative, it has an effect on.”
The two left the symposium even more certain that Cooperstown made the right decision.
“The R word is a racial slur,” Borgstrom said. “You can’t get around it.”
At the event, which was held about a mile away from the NFL’s fall meetings, the girls were treated as guests of honor for their efforts at CCS. They acknowledge that they are not always treated that way here.
“There’s been some negativity, but it is not direct,” Borgstrom said. “It is grumbling or behind the scenes stuff. It’s like at games, people still cheer using the R-word. Do they do it a little more often when they see I am near by? Yeah, I feel like they do.”
Added Greenberg, “sometimes it seems like people who I used to be friendly with, don’t smile at me as much, but nobody has been mean to us.”
Contrary to the some early opinions, it was Greenberg and not Borgstrom who initially brought the nickname matter to CCS officials. After a trip in the summer of 2012 to New Mexico, she noticed the reaction of friends of hers who belonged to the Navajo tribe to the school’s nickname. She mentioned it to another Cooperstown friend, Hope Dohner. Dohner, who graduated from CCS in June and is now a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and Greenberg then decided to talk to CCS superintendent C. J. Hebert and the Board of Education.
“When they started it, I was not with them,” Borgstrom said. “I was for the change, but I wasn’t involved in it. My father and Mr. Hebert told Emily and Hope that there was going to be a lot of backlash on this. They suggested that Emily and Hope really not say anything so that people didn’t take it out on them.
“I felt like I didn’t have that option,” she continued. “Everyone just assumed it was me, and my father, who started this even though it wasn’t. So for me, my name was already involved. I felt like I could not speak up and have everyone just think I was speaking anyway, or I could go ahead and speak for myself.”
Said Greenberg, “that first Board of Education meeting was a little bit of a shock. I was surprised how devoted people were.
“I get that people are devoted to the school,” she continued. “I think that is a great thing in our community. But like Catherine said, it is the school you should be devoted to and not a nickname.”
Added Borgstrom, “It is still the same team. It is still the same school. It is still the same players. You don’t have to cheer for the R word. You can cheer for the athletes. You can cheer for your teammates. You can cheer for your friends. You can cheer for the kids. You can cheer for Cooperstown.”
Both girls said that they expect the nickname controversy to fade away again. They said they believe that one day the Washington football team will also change its nickname.
But now they back to their normal high school lives. Greenberg said she has applied to Columbia; Borgstrom said she is looking to go to school “someplace far away” and study industrial design. Both are involved in student government, the Leo Club and the school play. Greenberg is editor of the yearbook and a literary magazine she started. Borgstrom is swimming and diving this fall; her team is the first CCS squad to win a title as the Hawkeyes.
Neither girl said that they feel personal pride for the mascot change.
“I’m proud, but I’m not proud of myself, I’m proud of the community,” Borgstrom said. “There have been so many people who have stepped up, who have spoken up. People we never expected to get involved have said that they support this.”
“We just needed a little push,” Greenberg added. “When Hope and I brought this up, I didn’t think we could change anything. We just thought that we should speak up.”