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In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue...

On Monday, the United States celebrated the 'discovery' of America by Christopher Columbus.

Though perhaps celebrate is a bit of a misnomer since only bankers, postal employees, and government workers get the day off work - the rest of us still go to work. And American Indians don't really celebrate the day either. In fact they often descend on Columbus Day parades in big cities and protest the honoring of the man for getting lost and claiming their homes for the glory of his god and Spain.

You can't blame them. The American Indian has been treated horribly for centuries in this country. They've got plenty of reasons to protest.

Sadly, most white people ignore these protests in the name of tradition. As in, we've had a Columbus Day parade for decades, why should we stop. Another 'traditional' part of life in the USA that the American Indians protest are the ethnically insensitive nicknames and mascots of some sports teams.

I can't say I understand why people thought that athletes would perform better if they wore a logo of a snarling animal on their jersey. But at some time in the not-too-distant past, that was the thought process behind naming sport teams1.

Teams chose nicknames for their ferociousness (the Chicago Bears, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins) and they seemed to be fine - Bears eat people, Eagles snatch fish out of the river, American Indians terrorized white people 100-plus years ago.

College and high school sports teams follow the example of their professional counterparts (the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and the Florida State University Seminoles) and these seemed to work out alright too - Panthers eat people, and the Seminole Indians terrorized the white people who were in the process of stealing their lands.

Now fast-forward to the late 20th Century.

American Indians are complaining about some teams using their ancestors' images as mascots for sports teams. Perhaps the most appalling is the racist caricature of an American Indian named 'Chief Wahoo' used by baseball's Cleveland Indians. But American Indian groups have protested against other uses of their heritage to promote sports teams.

Professional sports teams and major colleges have been slow to change. They make a lot of money on racist nicknames like 'Redskins'.

On the other hand, smaller colleges like Pennsylvania's Shippensburg University were quick to make the switch. The Shippensburg sports mascot was and is the 'Red Raiders'.

When I was younger, their mascot was a fierce American Indian in full war paint. But at some point during my lifetime, the mascot at Ship changed from a Native American to a Red Boat - the Red Raider had gone from a murderous Indian to a red pirate ship.

The sports mascot at my own college (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) was and is called the 'Indians'. While I went to school there, we had a male and female student dress up in Indian costumes to lead cheers at sporting events. Today, they don't have the kids dressing up in costume any more. They've kept the name 'Indians' - at least so far.

Every once in a while a proposal will be made to change things. Yes, the name 'Indians' can be considered racist. But the name of the town in which the college is located is also a derivative of the word 'Indian'.

So they have suggested changing the school's name to Stewart University in honor of movie actor Jimmy Stewart who was born and raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Though no word on what we might be using as a mascot in that case - 'the fighting movie stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood'?

I don't condone racism. I don't feel proud that my college's sports mascot might make Native Americans feel uncomfortable.

But where does the line get drawn?

Do we actually change the name of the whole college? Does the town for which the school is named change its name? What should happen to the state of Indiana?

One of the small colleges in the Pennsylvania Dutch country near where I live has 'Dutchmen' as their mascot. The University of Notre Dame's mascot is the 'Fighting Irish'. Having ancestors that are Pennsylvania Dutch and others that are Irish, I don't find either school's mascot to be offensive.

Does this mean that I want to see mascots like the 'Redskins' perpetuated? Even after Native American groups have protested at the mascots are offensive?


But I do want some thought applied to this divisive issue. Should we really change the name of a town because Christopher Columbus didn't realize that he had sailed to the wrong continent?

1Of course today, marketing teams are involved so the colours and mascots are hip, trendy and guaranteed to sell lots of merchandise.

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