Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

January 31, 2013

Hear views on 'Redskins' before making decision

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — Are the Cooperstown Redskins behind times for not having changed their nickname? Some might think so.

The Crier reported in January 2002 that Cooperstown Central School was the only district left in the state still using Redskins as its nickname, according to a list compiled by the state Education Department.

The use of American Indian team names, mascots, logos and other imagery has been a controversial issue for quite some time. Some people view changes to these as a long-overdue response to offensive stereotypes; others view it as political correctness run amok. Either way, the issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon. And Cooperstown will probably not be the last to hold onto its American Indian related moniker.

This is not the first time the issue has come up at CCS. It was reviewed in 2002 with no action taken.

In an address to seventh- through 12th-graders last Thursday, Board of Education President David Borgstrom called for a change in the district’s nickname. He said, “Times are changing. Our culture continues to evolve. Some of you were firsthand witnesses to the second inauguration of the first African-American president in our nation’s history. Locally, we have been through much in the last four years. CCS has made significant efforts to recognize change, diversity, cultural sensitivity, character and leadership.”

Borgstrom said it has troubled him for some time that the school recognizes the importance of this character education, has made a commitment to it, and espoused a need for cultural sensitivity, while supporting a school nickname that is the antithesis of this philosophy.

“What would the board of education response be, if ever asked to justify our commitment to cultural sensitivity education and the nickname ‘Redskins?’” he asked. “If any of you came before the board and asked this of us, I would have no reasonable response.”

The use of the nickname “Redskins” may top the list of being most offensive of American Indian names because it is seen as an ethnic slur.

The National Football League’s Washington Redskins is facing criticism. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that if the team is serious about coming inside the District of Columbia, D.C Mayor Vincent Gray says there will have to be a discussion about a name change.

In Borgstrom’s address, he said research done in 2001 suggested the name “Redskins” dates to the mid-1920s.

The address continued: “Some have suggested it relates to (Lester) “Red” Bursey (longtime coach, physical education teacher and athletic director, which the district’s gymnasium is named after). It seems to predate his influence. If the name was a reference to native people, it was surely done to honor them. I respect that. Further, I recognize the history of the school and the emotional ties to the name ‘Redskins.’ The issue is not so much the origins of the name, who it may have honored, or the various visions and emotions it may stir up. What is at hand is how it reflects Cooperstown Central School culture and philosophy of education.”

Let’s face it; nobody really likes change, especially when something has been the same for so many years. Alumni probably have the most emotional tie to the nickname and will most likely have the most resistance to change. However, the fate will not be left in their hands, but instead will be made internally. 

According to Superintendent C.J. Hebert, students, faculty and staff will complete a survey indicating their preferences for as many as three nicknames among nine offered to them. Keeping the current nickname will be an option, and space will be provided to suggest a name that is not listed. The three most popular choices will be presented to the board of education at a 5 p.m. meeting Wednesday, Feb. 6.

We are not sure if a final decision will be made by then, but if you have an opinion on the topic that probably would be the time to attend to express it. That, or call a school official beforehand. It may be the last opportunity to be heard because a public meeting has not been scheduled to gather input and it does not look like there will be one.