Home of the Braves?

Note:  On June 29, 2018, Bob Ratterman and Brennen Kauffman of the “Journal News” reported at the June 18, 2018 Talawanda School Board meeting Kathy McMahon-Klosterman read excerpts from a six-page letter from the Native American Rights Fund urging Talawanda to change its district mascot (https://www.journal-news.com/news/native-american-group-wants-butler-county-school-mascot-changed/lF739qRLXnDWuR4fz2sr1L/). For information on NARF see: https://www.narf.org/.

Article originally appeared in the Talawanda Tribune’s May 2018 magazine “Changing Perspectives.”

Race-based mascots have long caused a controversy in sports. Writer Jean Pateman looks at the debate about appropriating Native American names and imagery in the Talawanda City Schools. The writer has decided to edit the name of some sports teams with ** in order to draw attention to the derogatory nature of the term.

Former Talawanda student Julia Stone grew up watching the Cleveland Indians. She also loved her school district’s mascot: The Braves. Stone described the image we see daily in Oxford, Ohio, on t-shirts, the high school football field and gymnasium: “the head of a Native American warrior all in red, white, and blue with a white earring, a Mohawk, blue face paint, and two white feathers.” However, Stone and many others have been changing their minds about race-based mascots as the controversy over the cultural appropriation of Native American imagery has been debated in professional, collegiate and high school sports.

“In Whose Honor?”
Cultural appropriation is the act of a dominant group using the traditions and/or imagery of a minority group in an imitative or derogatory way. In terms of a school or sport team’s mascot it’s when honorary terms (e.g. chiefs, braves, warriors, etc.), or iconography (e.g. tomahawk, mohawk, headdress, etc.) are used as symbols, logos, or figures in non-native schools. Some think that they’re honoring native tribes, but in reality many groups and individuals feel oppressed or disrespected by the use of their culture as a mascot. There is also psychological research on the effects of the use of race-based mascots.

In 2005, The American Psychological Association (APA) called for an immediate retirement of all Native American mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations. The APA reports that the use of these mascots is a form of racism and discrimination and can have damaging effects. According to the APA, raced-based mascots can undermine the education of People of Color, create a violent learning environment, undercut the ability of Native Americans to accurately and respectfully portray their own cultures, and damage relationships between tribes and schools.

Professional sports teams such as the Washington R**skins have been under fire due to the blatant racism of their name. The team went to court in July of 2017 in order to continue using the term “R**skins” and despite every major Native American organization and many civil rights and religious groups speaking out against the name, the team won. After winning the case, billionaire owner Dan Snyder declared “I am thrilled.”

In 2019, The Cleveland Indians will no longer use their Chief Wahoo caricature on jerseys due to a joint decision by the franchise and Major League Baseball who determined that the cartoon image is inappropriate for on-field use. The logo has been in use since 1948 and will still be for sale on merchandise despite it being removed from team uniforms.

The controversy has also played out in collegiate sports. Stanford University changed their name from The Stanford Indians. Their mascot was a small-headed, red Native American with a large nose. In the 1970s a group of Native American students gathered and petitioned the mascot saying it was a mockery to their culture. The Stanford President, Richard Lyman, agreed with the students and changed the mascot in 1972.

In 1997, Miami University changed from the Miami R**skins to the Miami Redhawks. After Miami changed their mascot, they increased tribe relations with the Myaamia tribe in Oklahoma. “The presence of a mascot image promotes and encourages unfounded stereotypes due to the reality that racial mascots are typically born from and thus rooted in misconception,” said Darryl Baldwin, Director of The Myaamia project in a released statement. “The presence and promotion of a r**skins mascot inhibited the ability of Miami University to create a climate of understanding and respect towards members of our tribal community.”

Many high schools also use Native American caricatures as a mascot. According to data cited by “Toledo Blade” sports reporter Kyle Rowland, Ohio ranks number one in the nation for total native mascots with 85 schools that use them. Eleven use the “R**skins” slur, including Cuyahoga Heights High School, and five use “R**men,” including Parma High School. Talawanda High School is one of the 85 schools that still use a Native American mascot.

Home of the Braves?
Starting in 2010, there have been individuals and organizations attending board meetings petitioning for the retirement of all race-based mascots in the Talawanda district. The group Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice (OCJP) and the Oxford branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have been vocal opponents of Talawanda’s use of the Braves name and imagery.

Director of OCJP Janis Dutton noted that they were originally approached by the NAACP in 2010. Both organizations formed a coalition. They began by showing a petition with over 200 signatures to the school board. They then presented the research on the psychological harm and damage caused by using race-based mascots. The coalition also published the list of organizations who endorsed the removal of Native American Mascots in a newspaper ad.

“So we presented them with research and data and well obviously we still have the Braves,” Dutton said.

Dutton also noted that two written testimonies were presented to the board. One was written by a previous high school student named Sara Smith. Smith is 50% Mexica. Smith wrote:
“I am so thankful that you took the time to read my story. I am asking that you will think about giving consideration to the Braves mascot one more time. This matter still affects me to this day, and it started over a decade ago, when I first arrived in seventh grade, when I was only 12 years old. The normalization of Native American stereotypes through the Braves mascot has led to conflict in the community, which will not be resolved until justice is won in the Talawanda School District, as it has been won at Miami University and many other educational institutions.”

Former Talawanda student Julia Stone also gave a testimony in 2010 where she discussed how she began to understand the problems with race-based mascots through watching a 1997 documentary by Jay Rosenstein titled “In Whose Honor?” “I learned that Native Americans themselves had been asking high schools to change Indian mascots. I saw the hurt in their eyes as they spoke of how offended and belittled they felt. In the words of one of the American Indians in the film, ‘What part of ‘ouch’ do you not understand?’ I could immediately empathize with their struggles.¨

To this day the Talawanda Brave mascot is a profile silhouette of a Native American. The image is on clothing and banners, and the sculpture of a Native American bust still sits in a display case in the high school cafeteria. Although many teams have gone to using a “T” on their clothing and equipment, the “Braves head” still dominates and at Friday night home football games you can see at least one student wearing a costume headdress and “war paint,” despite the fact that neither the Shawnee nor Miami tribe wear headdresses and it is not culturally accurate to tribes in Ohio.

In the 1960s Talawanda Middle School student John Maggard drew a caricature of a Native American titled “Fighting Braves.” The cartoon was featured on an athletic program in 1968. Recently Maggard reflected on the drawing he made fifty years ago and when asked if he thinks that the image is appropriate in 2018 he said:
“As a piece of art, no I wouldn’t want it seeing the light of day — pretty crude! It was not done as any type of derogatory caricature; at that time and from the limited perspective of a 14-year-old obsessed with drawing superheroes, it was meant as a heroic sort of figure in keeping with many of the sports mascots/icons of the day.”

Maggard identifies as being neutral on the issue of the Braves mascot, but said:
“If any particular group — be it a tribe, an ethnic minority or religion, takes issue with what they consider to be a demeaning graphic representation of themselves solely based on appearance (the image itself) or name, great pains should be taken to consider either modifying that image and name or to consider it’s replacement.”

Maggard said that the affected parties — students, school community, and tribal entities — are the ones who need to discuss the mascot issue at Talawanda. He noted that there are many non-sports related examples of how damaging hateful representations can be.

There have also been community members who have openly spoken out against changing the Talawanda mascot. In 2010 a coalition, led by Shawna Campbell, a Talawanda alumna and district parent, ran a petition to keep the Braves name and image and received 701 signatures.

“I think it should stay that way as it has been for years. It is part of the heritage of the school. It has always been that way and I don’t see the reason to change,” said Campbell. Though she did not present any research to support her side of the debate, she said that the schools were the reasons she moved back to the Oxford area and that her children would not participate in sports if the mascot were to be changed.

Dylan Tussel of “Journal News” covered the story in May, 2010 and wrote: “Board member Lois Vollmer said she did not see any reason to change the mascot. ‘My opinion was it needed to stay the same — I was not in favor of changing it,’ Vollmer said. ‘I listened very intently and read what I was given, and I read or heard nothing that I thought was offensive to anyone.’”

Even though former Talawanda Board of Education member Vollmer stated that she does not think it is offensive, “The presence of a mascot image promotes and encourages unfounded stereotypes due to the reality that racial mascots are typically born from and thus rooted in misconception,” according to Darryl Baldwin, Director of The Myaamia project in a release statement. “The presence and promotion of a r**skins mascot inhibilitated the ability to Miami University to create a climate of understanding and respect towards members of our tribal community,” Baldwin said.

In 2014, the OCPJ released an online article about the board’s continued decision to keep the mascot: “Despite the efforts of the coalition, in 2010 the board chose not to study the issue further stating, ‘the majority of the citizens in the Talawanda School District agree that the Braves mascot is not offensive, and they favor its continued use.’” The OCJP stated: “In other words, whiteness just didn’t hold the majority, it overpowered. Again. As it has for hundreds of years.”

More recently, Kathy McMahon-Klosterman a member in the OCJP, has been trying to change the Talawanda mascot. “I tried to really make it clear from our rational perspective that this harms students. We have rhetoric from the district saying that we care about the safety of all students, and yet we continued to engage in traumatizing the students,” McMahon-Klosterman said.

Talawanda’s written mission is “Empower Every Learner Every Day” and the “Climate and Culture Goal” is “to empower all stakeholders to actively create and sustain a positive learning experience.” However, McMahon-Klosterman pointed out that the continued use of the Braves mascot contradicts this goal. “The term ‘Braves,’ when you associate it with Native American tribes, is earned. It’s not just given to anyone,” McMahon-Klosterman said. This perspective is very different from what some students today think. One freshman said: “I would be okay with changing the mascot, but maybe keep the name.”

In a letter McMahon-Klosterman wrote to the Talawanda District Board Members is included a quote from Sarah Schilling, of Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, from the Center for Native American Youth Champion for Change: “A Native American mascot seemed to have nothing to do with actual Native American people to them. A white person’s school pride was put above a Native American person’s sense of identity. A white person’s fond memories were more important than a Native American youth attending a school they felt still wore the mascot of oppression.” So the real question Talawanda is facing about whether or not to change the mascot just might be, what is the brave thing to do?

Research Consulted:
APA Resolution

APA Resolution Summary and Listing of Points

Complete List of Advocates for the Removal of Race-based Mascots

Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice

Braves bust in THS Cafeteria, 2018 Photo by Jean R. Pateman

Braves victory bell in THS Stadium, 2018 Photo by Piper Muhlhauser

THS student at home football game, 2017 Photo by Camry Winsted-Neeley

Feature Photo Braves banner, THS Stadium, 2018 Photo by Piper Muhlhauser