I can’t remember the last time I wrote Lancaster High School’s nickname in the paper. I know that over the past year, well before the renewed calls for the NFL team in Washington to change its nickname, I decided that I wouldn’t use it.
So I looked it up.
A search of our library shows that it was a little over a year ago, Oct. 12, 2012, in a story previewing the matchups of Week Seven of the high school football season. That’s the last time I used the R-word in a story. It’s been a clear, cognizant choice. If I didn’t have to type it, I wouldn’t. If I don’t, I won’t.
There’s a very good reason for it.
I don’t like saying – or writing – words that are offensive.
The news broke in July that Lancaster was considering changing its nickname. Well, it had better get that new nickname contest going soon. It’s long overdue.
(I left a message with the superintendent’s office Wednesday asking to see where things stood, but did not get a call back.)
There is no debating that the word is a slur. That’s why our excellent Bills reporter Tim Graham has stopped using the nickname as it relates to his coverage of the National Football League. There have been several other reporters and some media outlets throughout the country that have taken similar stances.
I was educated on this matter in a place where you are supposed to be, a classroom. I was a freshman sitting in Introduction to Native American History at University at Buffalo’s Clemens Hall. The professor, a Native American, plainly and calmly said that he and many others took offense to the name.
It’s pretty straightforward to understand why. The word “skin,” preceded by any color, referring to human beings, should be unacceptable to use as a nickname.
That’s why more than 30 major universities changed their nicknames away from Native American terms, including St. Bonaventure’s Brown Indians (Bonnies) and the St. John’s Redmen (Red Storm). The NCAA’s initiative to have colleges move away from the offensive terms helped add more to the list.
Lancaster is among the last districts in the state to use the offensive nickname. Cooperstown recently dropped it. Canisteo-Greenwood made news in June when its superintendent announced the district would drop the R-word, only to back off after community members furious with the idea packed a school board meeting. That leaves Lancaster, Canisteo-Greenwood and Oriskany, located just outside Utica, as the holdouts. I don’t think that Lancaster really wants to be the last name on that list.
Lancaster’s nickname was used in my story about a year ago as we were – as we are now – heading into rivalry week and one of the treasures of local sports: The Lancaster-Depew game.
There is no bigger game for the fervent, passionate and proud fans of Lancaster, and there are fewer evenings in Western New York that so excellently display what high school sports mean to a community.
Lancaster loves its athletic program, and it holds dear all the great things about high school sports. For decades, those great sentiments have been attached to its nickname – to the point that they have been intertwined. I can understand that many don’t want to give that up.
But they have to be separated. Nothing changes Lancaster’s legacy, one that shouldn’t be tainted with a nickname that shouldn’t be in use by any school, any team.
The pride, tradition and history will still be there, in bold red and black. There will just be a different name. It’s long overdue.
I still remember arriving to cover a game – this might have been 10 years ago – and seeing a white student done up in the whole headdress and face paint bit, and my jaw nearly dropping.
Dan Snyder, the owner of Washington’s NFL team, seemed to do his best to wrap up a couple of centuries of insensitivity into his “you can put it in all caps” quote that he would “NEVER” change the nickname. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has since backed off his early support. A notable resident of Washington, D.C., said if he owned the team, he’d change the name. He happens to be president.
I know the nickname has been there a long time, whether it is in Washington or Lancaster.
American history is full of things that were done because that’s the way things were – until we smartened up.
And please save the cries about political correctness. This isn’t political correctness. Just correctness.
Clarification: Originally this story listed the Syracuse Orangemen (Orange) as an example of universities that changed their nicknames. Syracuse’s mascot has had several incarnations, including a Native American that was discontinued after protests, but its nickname change was not solely due to Native American issues.