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Banning Mascots

The fighting Redskins, Chiefs, and Braves that have represented some of California's school sports teams for decades may be driven out soon.

California may require its public schools to give up team names and mascots related to Native American culture, under legislation that passed in committee this month. If the bill becomes law, it is believed to be the nation's first such ban on mascots.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Democrat, the bill would require a state commission to compile a list of names that would be out of bounds for schools to use. Schools on Indian reservations, meanwhile, would be exempt from the mandate and could choose to have such a mascot.

Some 100 elementary, middle, and high schools still use names such as Redskins and Warriors, according to state estimates. The state would contribute $1 million to help those schools create new mascots and logos.

Some Native Americans say that such mascots are demeaning and teach negative stereotypes. For instance, students who don't understand the symbolism of religious objects such as face paint and feathers often misuse them.

Others say that each school, not the state, should decide the matter.

"If we begin doing that as state policy, where will it stop?" said Assemblyman Richard Dickerson, a Republican. Mr. Dickerson said not all American Indians are troubled by such mascots. Several schools in his rural northern California district have chosen to keep them.

Lori Nelson, an official with the Alliance Against Racial Mascots, a statewide coalition of Native American groups in favor of the bill, said in most cases, administrators and students want to change. But, she added, alumni with strong emotional ties to mascots have turned the debates into divisive and time-consuming battles.

"Time after time, administrators say they want to be ordered to change, to take the heat off them," Ms. Nelson said. "The alumni are just not getting it."

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 21, Issue 38, Page 16

Published in Print: May 29, 2002, as State Journal

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