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March 14, 2013

Board was right to put 'Redskins' to rest

The Daily Star

---- — In a couple of months, the Cooperstown Redskins will be a page in the history books, and students returning to school in the fall will have a new mascot to cheer. 

And we think that’s a very good thing. 

Not simply because “Redskins” is an outdated and potentially offensive word. The origins of the term are in dispute. Some believe it refers to the skin color of American Indians, or the reddish pigment that some Indians applied to their bodies. Another theory holds that it refers to the brutal practice of state-sanctioned genocide carried out against Indians in the 18th century at the request of the British government. Either way, the expression is an archaic one that carries negative connotations. 

Neither is it simply because this sort of change is happening all over the country. In 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights passed a resolution calling for an end to the use of American Indian symbols as mascots. In 2005, the National Educational Association recommended the same thing. And since then, several states have taken action to do away with such names. 

No, the reason we’re cheering the board on is a simple one. Board members not only listened to the students, but they exercised their judgment and made the decision they thought was best for the school. 

The most vocal opponents of this change have been community members and alumni. And certainly the board is not deaf to the concerns of these groups. But ultimately its responsibility is to the school itself — and its students. 

And it was the students who initiated the whole thing. Cooperstown Board of Education President David Borgstrom said in January that students had come forward to say they felt uncomfortable and embarrassed about the Redskins nickname when speaking with people unfamiliar with the school. 

Superintendent C.J. Hebert added that the district has made significant efforts to recognize cultural changes and diversity.

“The name really does not coincide with our initiatives and all the work we have been doing with anti-bullying,’” Hebert said. “It is kind of hard to have them side-by-side.”

We understand that this change will be painful for many who have long rooted for the Redskins mascot and considered it a source of pride. But we cannot imagine that a different image will do anything to diminish the character of Cooperstown’s students, the performance of its athletic teams or the quality of education within the district. 

If anything, the community should be proud of its students for taking the initiative to begin this conversation with the administration. And to honor the board’s decision, this newspaper will no longer use the term “Redskins” to refer to the school.