Cleveland Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario (1) and teammates celebrate the...

Cleveland Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario (1) and teammates celebrate the come from behind win in the 9th inning during Game 3 of the ALDS at Progressive Field on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Guilty.

Not, if it please the court, of intentionally disparaging Native Americans by playing on high school teams nicknamed “Indians.” (Or working on the school newspaper called “The Pow Wow.”) I plead youth. I was 15 — and white — and didn’t give a second thought to how that mascot landed with indigenous people.

Sixty years on, the knuckleheads moaning about Cleveland’s baseball team ditching the “Indians” moniker, Washington’s footballers no longer branding themselves with an out-and-out slur, and last month’s state Education Department order that school districts cease using team names or imagery depicting Native Americans, have no excuse. We all have had plenty of time, and exposure to protests regarding racial awareness, to acquire an education in the matter.

A fivethirtyeight.com analysis of MascotDB by Hope Allchin in 2020 found that, while the numbers were decreasing, 1,232 high school teams — several on Long Island — continued to use Native American names, including 411 Indians, 107 Chiefs or Chieftains, and 45 with Washington’s recently discarded name.

“Why are teams so reluctant to let go of their Native mascots?” Allchin asked. “Research has repeatedly shown the mental harm that these icons inflict on Indigenous people, and tribal leaders continue to speak out against teams’ disrespect and appropriation.”

California, Maine, Oregon and Wisconsin already have laws or department of education policies prohibiting Native American mascots in public schools. Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts and Nebraska have proposed embargoes and, since 2005, the NCAA has had a de facto ban focused on colleges whose mascots were deemed “hostile or abusive.”

That year, Ronald Levant, a former president of the American Psychological Association, said the “mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often insulting images of American Indians.”

I finally began to learn a few things back in 1972, when assigned by Newsday to report on Dartmouth College’s decision, in the face of Native American complaints, to change its athletic nickname from “Indians” to the school color, Big Green.

Dartmouth’s founder in 1770, Eleazar Wheelock, had claimed his school was for “the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land . . . and also of English Young and any others.” By 1972, it was struggling to recruit Native American students while its few indigenous students were angered by the school mascot, who wore war paint and did sideline dances for first downs.

A Dartmouth professor at the time, Jeffrey Hart, claimed he was mystified by the fuss, since he said he “never regarded the Indian symbol as a racial slur, and I only marvel at those who do so, or at least say they do.”

Among non-Native Americans, a tone-deaf pretzel logic persists that such mascots, rather than an insult, are an “honor” to indigenous people. As historian Jennifer Guiliano, author of the 2015 book “Indian Spectacle: College Mascots and the Anxiety of Modern America,” put it, “It’s really hard for Native communities to look past that this . . . is a celebration of the dying of their ancestors . . . It is celebrating extermination and colonization.”

My freshman-year teams, when I was an “Indian,” were at Alemany High in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. At some point, Alemany changed from Indians to . . . Warriors?! That’s really just another term to caricature Native Americans as wild aggressors. And it doesn’t sound so innocent, either.

  

THIS GUEST ESSAY reflects the views of former Newsday sports reporter John Jeansonne.

This guest essay reflects the views of former Newsday sports reporter John Jeansonne.