Taking a bold stance against “hostile and abusive” imagery in 2005, the NCAA voted to ban all such nicknames and mascots from postseason activities.
The decision by the supreme ruling body of collegiate sports prompted dozens of schools to alter logos, mascots and nicknames that were viewed as disparaging to Native American culture.
Today, few Native American nicknames remain in collegiate athletics.
High school sports, though, are another story. According to one study a couple of years ago, there are about 2,000 Native American-inspired mascots in high schools across the country.
And now, at a time of heightened sensitivity about potentially offensive symbols, the use of a headdress at Linganore High School is the focus of dueling petitions over whether it should be banned.
At Linganore, the “chief” of the “student tribe” wears the headdress to promote school spirit. It’s a common sight at school events and games. To many, this is a tradition worth preserving. To others, it is offensive.
But to Juan Boston, it’s simply disrespectful.
Boston, vice chairman of the board of directors at the Baltimore American Indian Center, is 58 years old. In his life, he has received two feathers.
“One was placed in my backyard at my feet by the Creator, and the other was given to me by a co-worker who said he has been watching what I do for the Native American community and gave it to me to show his appreciation,” Boston said. “When you see some people wearing one jumping around like a monkey, yelling like an idiot, it is disrespectful to our culture.”
Maybe it’s that Boston doesn’t understand the Linganore tradition. But what’s more likely is that those fighting to keep the headdress don’t understand his.
“To earn that headdress, you are talking about someone with a lifetime of contributing and battling for the community,” he said. “It’s like if someone were to wear an army general’s uniform and parade around jumping and yelling making a mockery of it. The outcry would be incredible.”
The Linganore principal has banned the wearing of the headdress. Some students and alumni have started a petition to keep it.
We think the principal got it right. Sure, we’re sympathetic to the people who are frustrated when traditions they see as fun and harmless are questioned. These days, it sometimes seems like everything you do is going to offend someone.
But once you know that something is disrespectful, why would you keep it? Is it really that important that you would be willing to disrespect another culture?
Not all traditions should be maintained, particularly those that disparage, degrade and harm. If Native Americans do not support the way the school uses their culture, then it’s time for Linganore to create a new era of school spirit.
Stanford University, once nicknamed the Indians, went through a yearslong battle about tradition before settling on the Cardinal — the color, not the bird — as its new name. While that debate raged, and while the university was without a mascot, the band began showing up to games with a mascot tree. That tree is now part of the tradition of Stanford University — an icon for the school created from the ashes of an offensive name.
For every tradition that ends, a new one begins. Students at Linganore High have a unique opportunity to begin a new tradition, one that can last generations — and doesn’t disrespect an entire culture.