COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The pressure to change the name of the Washington Redskins has finally surmounted opposition.
The team announced Monday it will abandon its name and mascot in the near future. This comes seven years after the team’s owner said he would never change the name.
The push to eliminate derogatory depictions of Native Americans has been something that has been going on for decades. In Ohio, a handful of schools still use nicknames some consider to be offensive and derogatory.
One of those schools is in the North Fork School District in Utica in Licking County.
The district’s Utica High School shares the same name as the Washington NFL team.
Graduates of the school from as far back as the 1980s said someone would dress up in a costume to portray the mascot. The electronic sign in front of the school welcomes visitors to the “Home of the Redskins,” and the football field has been dubbed Redskin Stadium.
Sometime back in the 80s, graduates recall an effort to move away from the name and mascot that ultimately failed.
“I think one of the names that was thrown out there was the Unicorns. Don’t know where that came from, yeah, Utica Unicorns, but yeah, it was a very short lived era,” said Tina Pargeon, a member of the school’s class of 1982.
She was part of the band, as was her husband a few years before her, and her children would be years later. For them, the name has been synonymous with positive things and carries a sense of pride.
The word itself started out as a way to describe someone, thought to have been translated by the French in interactions with Native people. It wasn’t until the 1800s that the term went through pejoration, when a term is connected to a negative connotation and is commonly considered a slur or derogatory term.
The people living around the high school in Utica don’t seem to have a strong opinion about the name one way or the other.
According to Craig Montgomery, a graduate of the class of 1988, he isn’t offended by it, but he is also not a Native American.
“I’m not a Native American, I’m of Irish descent. If I was gonna have a particular battle, it would be with teams like Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish, that kind of stereotype, but I don’t. I’m not offended by that, either,” said Montgomery.
And while he and Pargeon both acknowledge the term redskin can be problematic, they aren’t exactly on the same page when it comes to what to do about it.
Where the name does not hold any nostalgia for Montgomery, Pargeon seeks to understand the impetus for a push to change now.
“I don’t think anybody locally really thought about what that mascot may have stood for,” said Montgomery. “If those that are offended by it choose to push to have those names changed, I sympathize with that. Some of those teams nicknames aren’t particularly inclusive.”
“I get it, because of where… but then again, we’ve been this way for so years,” said Pargeon. “Why now has it become such a problem?”
Pargeon said if it comes down to whether the school should change the name or not, she thinks it should be the district’s decision. Meanwhile, Montgomery doesn’t feel he has any stake in the fight since he is not Native American.
Laraine Neighbarger said she does have Native American ancestry, from the Delaware Natives known as the Lenape. She’s lived in Utica for nearly three decades, but said her heritage runs deep in Ohio’s history.
Neighbarger doesn’t think the name should change.
“What are you gonna call them, the Utica Maple Leafs, or you know, the Pussycats? I don’t see anything derogatory about it,” said Neighbarger.
She views the name as a way to draw attention to the topic of native people.
Her daughter, Rachel Landis, doesn’t exactly agree, but she also doesn’t have children who attend school in the district.
When asked about the imagery and nickname used by the school, she looked at it for a long moment and said, “I don’t think paying attention to it improves the situation. So, I think, ignoring it is the best way to handle it, and let the people who are upset about it handle it the best way they see fit.”
Ultimately, it seems few in Utica have strong convictions about changing the name at this time.
According to statement from the North Fork School District Superintendent Scott Hartley, it seems the district has other things they are focused on right now.
“At this point, the district has been working on getting students back into the buildings,” Hartley said in a statement. “We have not received any requests from our community about this.”