Brian Murphy: No excuses — Redskins mascot needs to go

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comApril 20, 2014 

Nine months ago, in clear and direct language, Teton School District Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme made the strong and correct decision to change Teton High's mascot.

No longer would the school's sports teams be known as the Redskins, he said.

"It has bothered me for some time that the mascot for the high school isn't in (alignment) with a lot of the programs and initiatives that we're working to teach," Woolstenhulme said in June, according to the Teton Valley News.

Today, Teton High - located in Driggs, just miles from the Wyoming border in eastern Idaho - is still known as the Redskins. And when school begins again in the fall, the school's sports teams will likely continue to be known as the Redskins.

It seems Woolstenhulme, an alumnus of the high school and descendant of a family with long ties to the Teton Valley, has few allies in changing the mascot - as dated and offensive as it is.

Make no mistake: Redskins is a dated and offensive name used to describe Native Americans. It has no place as a team's mascot, whether you're a high school in Idaho or professional football team in Washington, D.C.

But Woolstenhulme's edict - "I'm not asking for board approval. It's a decision I'm making," he said in June - went nowhere.

Sixty-seven people spoke at a school board meeting in July, and three wanted to replace the nickname, prompting Woolstenhulme to recommend that the district take more time to consider the issue. In August, the district board shelved the issue until April.

The issue was not on the school board's agenda Monday for its regular April meeting. Instead, the board offered an informal statement claiming it had too many other issues of great importance to deal with and would not be putting it on the agenda for the foreseeable future.

Board member Delwyn Jensen summed up the position earlier this month.

"I think we have better things to talk about that are a little more important and pressing than the cartoon character that runs around the high school," Jensen told the Teton Valley News.

Last year, the board considered it "important" enough to devote at least portions of three meetings to the issue. Keeping the offensive mascot is worth attention. But dumping it and picking another mascot is not.

School boards will always have something "more important" to talk about than mascots. There are budgets to make and staffing concerns to be addressed. There's a crisis around every corner, if you look hard enough. New school construction, funding, transportation, new legislation and technology. The list goes on.

Who has time to deal with a "cartoon character that runs around the high school," right?

The issue, as everyone knows, is much bigger than that. Woolstenhulme was correct last year. The nickname is at odds with what the school should be trying to teach, including acceptance and respect.

Had the community accepted Woolstenhulme's quite obvious decision last year and moved with appropriate haste, Teton High would be graduating its first class of Bison or Coyotes or Wolves or Bears or something super creative developed and designed by students.

If the school opened today, there's no chance its teams would be called the Redskins. In fact, someone would likely be reprimanded or fired for even suggesting it.

It's unacceptable for a high school - or a professional team, for that matter - to use a racially offensive slur as its nickname, to send boys and girls out to compete with that nickname across their chests.

The Teton School District is apparently too busy to do anything about it.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service