Much ado about mascots

There are those little issues that we never seem to be able to put to political bed. No matter how many times we think we have solved them, they pop back up when we least expect it, like villains in a horror film.

Native American-inspired school mascots are one of those issues that the Oregon Legislature cannot stop debating.

The state banned the use of such names years ago, but Republicans in the Oregon Senate have already introduced two bills in an attempt to repeal the ban and two others are expected out of the House, according to The Oregonian.

For many of us, it's a lot of bluster about something not worth all that much talk. Mascots are just people in goofy costumes trying to get the crowd excited at some high school sporting event.

But, for others, it's a no-brainer, an admittedly small but simple step to breaking stereotypes and evening the scales after generations of imbalance.

We think this newspaper, and our readers, have a better grasp on this debate than many others.

There are few places where Native Americans are as important a part of the modern culture than here in Eastern Oregon. Many of us are members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, or Grande Ronde, Warm Springs, Yakama or other tribes. Or we call tribal members our friends and neighbors and, occasionally, our rivals on the basketball court or the football field.

We don't see the value of banning tribal mascot names on a state level. Yet, that is not to say that all school and team nicknames are in good taste and should be allowed. In Oregon, we just think that decision should be made by the school district itself, its students, parents and athletes, with the counsel of nearby and affected tribes.

If, such as in the case of the Florida State University Seminoles, the tribe allows the use of such a moniker it should continue. And in the case of the University of North Dakota, where voters overwhelmingly rejected use of the Fighting Sioux nickname, then the school should move on without it.

There are some mascots that seem totally uncalled for in this era. The most glaring example of racial insensitivity is the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. It is a demeaning, cruel and repulsive mascot that should be changed. Once again, a movement is afoot to do so. Still, that decision should be made by the city, the NFL and the team's owner, not by some government mandate.

We shouldn't need a new law enacted every time we need to do something right. For as many nicknames that deserve to be lost to history, there are others, such as the Roseburg Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks, that should remain as reverent reminders to our sense of place.

Because, after all, it's just a guy in a funny outfit.

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