A high school newspaper in Bucks County has vowed not to print the word “Redskins,” the long-cherished nickname for all of the school’s athletic teams.
The decision sits at the center of an editorial published this week in The Playwickian, the student paper at Neshaminy High School, a football powerhouse where students and parents bleed blue and red.
The majority of the paper’s editors argue that tradition is no longer a good enough reason to keep using a term that smacks of racism.
“The evidence suggesting that ‘Redskin’ is a term of honor is severely outweighed by the evidence suggesting that it is a term of hate,” reads a part of the editorial published Wednesday.
By some definitions, the term’s origin is not considered offensive, that it referenced the red face paint worn by some Native American tribes. Others, though, cite a period of American history during which the U.S. government paid people to hunt Native Americans. Some tribes say the term is as offensive to Native Americans as the N-word is to African-Americans. The owner of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins has been in the spotlight lately for resisting calls to change his team’s name.
These days, “Redskin” is considered, at the very least, taboo.
Some Neshaminy students, such as Reed Hennessy, the paper’s sports editor, say continuing to use “Redskins” or “Skins” reflects badly on the school and is personally embarrassing.
“It wouldn’t be a discussion if it was something about African-Americans. If it was ‘Blackskins,'” said Hennessy. “But because it’s Native Americans and they’re such a minority [people feel it’s ok to use].”
Other students say the school’s use of “Redskins” has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with school pride.
“It’s always only ever been ‘Redskins’ because Neshaminy Redskins, not ‘Redskins’ because of the color of your skin or anything like that,” said junior Lindsey Rush.
A dissenting editorial, also published in this month’s edition of The Playwickian, argues that the term “reflects back to the district’s heritage; the land on which Native Americans once walked and is depicted as tribute rather than tarnish.”
“Redskin Nation is a whole bunch of people coming out to support the football team, and it’s not to slander the term ‘Redskin,’ it’s to support it. And I actually think it compensates for the sins that we committed upon finding America,” said Eishna Ranganathan, the paper’s news editor.
It’s unclear if Neshaminy will ever break ties with the face of its athletics department, and for many, the school itself. Students have called for the school to change its name before.
In addition to the Washington Redskins, controversy also has swirled around professional sports teams with Native American mascots, such as the Cleveland Indians, with no change. Many college teams have changed over the years, but there are plenty of NCAA teams with Native American-themed names.
Neshaminy Principal Robert McGee declined comment, citing a pending civil complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, against the Neshaminy School District. A local resident who is Native American and who has a son in the high school is requesting that the district abandon the name.
Neshaminy head football coach Mark Schmidt distanced himself from the issue.
“This is going to process itself along, whether or not we’re involved or not,” said Schmidt.
No matter what happens, some students on The Playwickian say publishing the editorial was the right move.
“It’s important to stand up for what you believe in, even if there are a very small amount of people that are standing up for it,” said junior Maddy Buffardi.