Editors Opinion

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Circle the PC wagons

Since when did the Iowa Department of Education become self-appointed as our police force for political correctness?

The Department is leaning on the Cherokee School District to possibly change its sports identity from the "Braves," for fear that it is derogatory to Native Americans.

This comes after a visit from something called an "Equity Review Team."

Now equity is a wonderful goal, and Native Americans deserve our efforts to respect their dignity and heritage. But while a name like the Washington Redskins clearly is insulting, I can't see where the people who nicknamed the school "Braves" were out to discriminate.

In fact, Cherokee is a nice little western-flavor city amid the prairies of Iowa, known for rodeo and its appreciation for its its prehistory Mill Creek cultures.

The Equity Team apparently came to town and asked around about the Cherokee Braves logo, finding that people interviewed focused on the "fierceness, aggressiveness and strength of the warrior" instead of the history and contributions of the native peoples.

News flash to the DOE - that's how and why sports teams are named most everywhere. To sound tough. Otherwise Spencer would by the Kitty Cats instead of the Tigers, Newell-Fonda would be the merry-go-round ponies instead of Mustangs, and I suppose Storm Lake would be Gentle Breezes.

So now we need non-aggressive, non-threatening, politically correct mascots for our schools. What does that leave us with? The Cherokee Earthworms? The Cherokee Tulips? I'm not sure we can fit Cherokee Indigenous Nonaggressive Nonthreatening Nonstereotypical Native American Peoples on a jersey without some serious weight training.

We do hope the state education department has enough time left over after investigating sports nicknames to look into reading, science and math, which seem to need a bit of attention in Iowa.

It's all gotten pretty silly.

Recently, Cherokee teachers all through the school levels had to go explain how they do indeed teach positive images of Native Americans in each and every class. Because of a sports nickname, the district has been told to ensure the correct history, contributions and perspectives of Native Americans within their curriculum. They are supposed to communicate with Native American leaders to gather their opinions on the school logo. They are to provide guidelines for students, staff, parents, sports fans and even the media in avoiding stereotypes and improper use of Native American symbols.

Last I checked, a school's job was to teach classes.

The Equity Team reports that their investigation found no evidence that the school district had in the past pursued discussions with Native American groups about their sports nickname.

Sheesh. St. Mary's High School probably hasn't surveyed the zoos for opinions on their name "Panthers," either.

I suppose if you search hard enough, you can find someone offended by just about anything.

Being of Norwegian ancestry, perhaps I should be filing suit against the Minnesota Vikings, an aggressive stereotypical racial image if ever there was one. But it's only their play that offends the Scandinavian faithful. How about the drunken looking little leprechaun mascot for the Boston Celtics? The Irish should rebel.

Speaking of the emerald isle, the "Fighting" Irish is surely too fierce. The "Blue Devils" and "Red Devils" sound pretty satanist to me. The "Battling Bishops" ought to be a problem.

The "Ragin Cajuns" must be racist, like the "Scotties" of Agnes Scott College.

And the Cal State "Dirtbags" have to be the least politically correct name of all time.

I love sports nicknames, especially the college teams. I've never been able to figure out exactly what a "Hawkeye" is, but surely it must offend someone in this PC-crazy era.

I also must admit to be being clueless about the "Billikens," the "Ephs," the "Salukis." And the mighty "Zips" of Akron University have me stumped.

I'd give PC Awards to the following totally unoffensive, if strange, teams:

The four high school and college teams who go by "The Acorns," the "Banana Slugs" of UC Santa Cruz, the "Gentlemen" of Centenary College, the "Ladies" of Kenyon, the "Violets" of New York U, the Miriam State "Skylights," the Whittier "Poets," and the Mary Baldwin "Squirrels."

Just for the record, I've been able to locate nine college teams with the nickname "Beavers" in addition to our own BVU.

A couple of creative choices deserve something - the "Ichabods" of Washburn, and the Northland "Lumberjills."

High schools can be fun too, from the "Adopted Sons" of Fall River, NY, to the "Zombies" of Tri-City; from the "Angry Antelope" from Texas to the "Zippers" in Missouri.

And, oh, by the way, there are 20 pro or semipro sports teams named "Braves," four colleges, and I stopped counting at 72 high school "Braves" - including the Sante Fe Indian School.

If northwest Iowa Native Americans had approached Cherokee and asked for consideration of a name change, then there would be good reason for this discussion. But if all we are really offending are the political correctness bureaucrats from the DOE, I think we can live with that, and I hope Cherokee school officials stand on their name.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune.