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Gorches: Symbols of racism have no place in sports, life

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Updated: June 13, 2013 7:33PM



The words “politically correct” are overused. I prefer using more accurate words: “morally correct.”

And there are things going on with racist overtones that are far from morally correct.

The owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, Dan Snyder, told USA Today last week the franchise “will never change the name of the team” despite ongoing pressure to get rid of the racist nickname.

The Washington Redskins’ website defends the nickname by listing some of the 70 high schools in 25 states across the nation that still use the nickname Redskins for their athletic squads, then has a link to a high school sports website that lists them all — one of them is Knox High School in Starke County.

Merriam-webster.com states the definition of Redskin as an “American Indian” with the caveat “usually offensive.” Wikipedia describes the word as a “racial descriptor for the indigenous peoples of the Americas and one of the color metaphors for race used in North America and Europe ...”

Simply put, it shouldn’t be any team’s nickname because it’s insulting to Native Americans.

That goes for Washington’s NFL team and it goes for Knox High School, too.

But Knox superintendent AJ Gappa told a Post-Tribune correspondent last week that there have been no conversations about changing the nickname.

Stubbornness is an ugly character trait. So is ignorance, and both are being displayed when it comes to this derogatory nickname.

St. John University used to be the Redmen — another demeaning Native American reference — but changed to the Red Storm in 1995. A year before, Marquette University changed its nickname from Warriors to Golden Eagles, since the previous nickname has some Native American connotations, though it’s mostly considered a honor to be called a warrior.

Also in 1994, Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, Ill., changed its school flag amid plenty of controversy. The school nicknamed the Rebels had used the Confederate flag as its symbol since the early 1960s. But intelligence overruled tradition and ignorance that was displayed at a ceremony in February of 1994. White students booed when the old flags were taken down, while black students cheered as the symbol of slavery and segregation was removed and replaced with a simpler flag that just said “Rebels.”

That brings us to last week when that symbol cropped up in a visible way in the parking lot of Boone Grove High School. Large Confederate flags were attached to the hoods of four vehicles at the Porter County school. A photo was displayed on fellow P-T columnist Jerry Davich’s Facebook page by a reader who took it and was offended.

I also added the post and photo to my Facebook timeline and it sparked a heated debate. It seems like many people have no problem with that flag, just like those students booing at TF South in 1994.

“I would think you would know the exact representation of the flag … southern pride,” one Portage High School grad said. “The pride of being a southerner. Not a racist.”

A Boone Grove student confirmed that the flags were real (some accused Davich or someone else of using Photoshop to stir controversy), but didn’t think it was anything to fuss over.

“I know some of the people who put those on their cars and they aren’t racist,” the Boone senior said. “A majority of them are hunters and country lovers. I honestly don’t think it is that big of a deal. People are making it a much bigger deal than it is supposed to be.”

Not true. Like many things in life, perception is reality, and if a certain segment of the population — whether it’s Native Americans who don’t like the word “redskins” or African Americans who feel the Confederate flag is a racist symbol — perceive the flags to be offensive, then notice needs to be taken. A Boone Grove graduate who wanted to remain anonymous sent me a direct Facebook message stating her displeasure.

“I find it absolutely infuriating,” she said. “Boone Grove is my old high school and the Confederate flag is one of the most racist symbols that the United States still for some reason tolerates. Ignorance to breaking a law is still breaking a law, and ignorance to tolerated racism is still racism and it needs to be exorcised.”

Not exercised, but exorcised, as in gotten rid of or eliminated, in case you didn’t know the difference one letter in a word can make — just like some don’t know the impact of one racist symbol can make.

Just ask an African American man who appreciated the debate, but not the ignorance.

“Thanks for offering us the opportunity to actually have an intelligent debate on Facebook, which in my opinion does not happen very often,” he said. “While it’s unfortunate the symbol has been chosen by many hate groups to represent racism and segregationists’ ideology, it does give the Boone Grove community an opportunity to educate their students on an important social issue. I’m happy that the students have southern pride, but do they truly understand the depth of the message they did or did not intentionally send? The swastika, 3,000 years before the Nazi party, was a symbol of good luck and used by many cultures around the world. We now understand as a society that it’s meaning is so strongly associated with hate that adopting it to use in any other context is simply futile.”

Sometimes a columnist doesn’t need to elaborate when a reader can submit a well-written and completely accurate statement that’s right in line with my opinion. It’s not a “country” thing or a “hunting” thing.

Boone Grove principal Woodrow DeRossett did not see the flags on display last week, but was disturbed when he found out.

“I believe it’s a symbol that some people don’t understand,” he said. “You say someone said it represents country? Well, that’s not really correct. People could look at Boone Grove High School and we’re promoting that type of thing and that’s far from the truth.”

In other words, the actions of a select few give multiple sects a bad name — Boone Grove students and faculty, hunters, southerners — and need to be corrected. DeRossett said he would definitely delve into the flags being displayed and do what any responsible adult should do.

“We try to deal with these things and address it with the kids,” DeRossett said. “We’ll ask them what they think when they fly this flag, what do they perceive its meaning to be. I want kids to understand better.”

Adults need to understand, too, because perception is reality. And the perception could be that Boone Grove has no problem with racist symbols, or that Knox High School or the Washington Redskins don’t care how Native Americans feel about their derogatory nicknames.

If St. John or Marquette or TF South can change over the years, then everyone can.

It’s the morally correct thing to do.



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