Activists who have called on Washington’s professional football team to change its controversial “Redskins” name are using the current NFL offseason to continue their fight in states and school districts across the country.
The California state Senate Education Committee voted 7-1 on Wednesday to approve legislation that would ban four of the state’s high schools from using “Redskins” as their mascots. Lawmakers and Native American activists are now calling on the full Senate to grant the bill quick passage.
“Native Americans are people, not mascots,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Democrat who introduced the bill in December after discussing it with student activists. “The way to truly honor Native Americans in the state with the largest Native American community is to pass this bill and get it signed by the governor.”
The legislation, which the state Assembly approved in May, will now head to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Pending approval there, it could get a full Senate vote in August.
The legislation would require the four remaining schools that use “Redskins” to stop buying new apparel branded with the name by Jan. 1, 2017. It mandates that they choose new monikers by the beginning of 2019. The bill’s backers said in a release that the extended time frame would help mitigate the costs of replacing uniforms and other school symbols that bear the name.
The bill, which is similar to one that passed both the Assembly and the Senate before earning then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto in 2004, is the most far-reaching effort currently targeting “Redskins” mascots across the country, as the ongoing controversy over the NFL franchise's name has reignited decades-long fights at the state and local levels.
Some of the most prominent activists working to end the use of the term are hopeful that success in California could spur more action elsewhere.
“As some say, as California goes, the country goes,” said Oneida Indian Nation of New York representative Ray Halbritter, one of the leaders of the "Change The Mascot" campaign that has targeted Washington’s NFL team for nearly two years. “So we’re heartened and we look forward to banning [the term].”
Other states have already started to act at the local level, without the same statewide impact as the California legislation.
This past December, an Oklahoma City school district voted to retire the use of “Redskins” at Capitol Hill High School, which had used it for more than 80 years. A school district in Lancaster, New York, made a similar decision in March with respect to Lancaster High School’s name. On Tuesday, the Lancaster board approved “Legends” as the school’s new mascot, earning the praise of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“Thanks @LancasterCSD for challenging status quo & saying Native American stereotypes are inappropriate in sports,” Duncan tweeted Tuesday night. “It makes no sense to me why the Washington pro football team won’t do the same and stop perpetuating racial stereotypes.”
In California, Native American students and tribal leaders used a press conference Wednesday to point to scientific research showing that such mascots can have harmful effects on Native American children and students. The advocates noted that the American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association and an array of education organizations have called for the retirement of the names.
“I think it’s a matter of tradition in their [school] districts,” state Sen. Marty Block (D) said of those who want to preserve the offending mascots, some of whom spoke at a committee hearing preceding the vote. “But it’s a tradition that has to stop.”
Meanwhile, the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C., has continued its campaign to protect its name and others. Redskins Facts, a campaign backed by the team, this week tweeted a link to a Change.org petition that wants to “keep and expand the use of Native American names, imagery, references, logos and other positive symbols in sports team names, roads, cities and other venues.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had 275 signatures.