Tuesday, Sep 24 2013 06:00 AM

The Roadrunner Connection: All eyes on the Washington Redskins

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I've written before about names in the world of sports, their importance, the pride they entail and the effect they have on their fan base. But this latest media-sparked outcry over the use of Washington Redskins, brings the conversation to a whole new level.

At first some history. I've personally dealt with this issue while a student at Tehachapi High School.

In 1996, we were approached by a group of Native Americans upset over the use of Warriors.

In the late 90s the fad of political correctness was just getting started and as a student and a member of both the local and student media, I was included in these discussions along with school administrators and tribal representatives. Although tense at times, we managed a compromise and stopped using our silly big-nosed Warrior mascot costume, as well as keeping the name.

Seventeen years later, Warriors is still intact.

But the latest public shaming from national media members along with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, is pushing the use of Native American team names back into the spotlight.

While Redskins was once demeaning in its origin, like many words, it's progressed over the years and is now more commonly known as a team name, not a racial slur. I personally call that progress.

Rick Reilly of ESPN recently cited examples of three high schools with student body populations made up of over 90 percent Native American that use the name Redskins for their teams, and not one kid is complaining.

Do you realize Tehachapi was once the Redskins as well? Matter of fact, Tehachapi (a Kawaiisu name, which some translate as 'hard climb'), has run the gamut of offensive team names by today's standards.

One of my most prized published pieces was in August of 1997, in this newspaper, the 67th anniversary of Tehachapi football -- it still hangs on my wall today.

While researching the program, I discovered the first team in 1930 was the "Indians," much like the frosh/soph team today. Yearbooks stored in the Tehachapi Museum talk about the "Indian "kids on that team ­-- I'm sure it was tough to play football while also being offended.

In 1931, they changed their name to Redskins. They also won their first game that season, 13-6 over Shafter and were nicknamed "The Fighting Eleven." I'm sure someone would be offended by that today as well. We can't encourage fighting, can we?

I now work for a program with probably the least-offensive name ever -- Roadrunners. Unless you're a cartoon coyote or a small game animal in the desert, you're safe. But let me explain how far I can take this issue if need be.

New Mexico State is a fellow WAC member, they're the Aggies but their logo features a cowboy with two pistols pointing forward. Should we be condoning guns in schools with all the recent violence? I think it's time the media attacks them. Or maybe not.

The NCAA bowed out of this issue a few years back, as one of the most-famous cases came at the University of North Dakota, where years of pressure from the NCAA, including threats of forfeits, forced the state government to discontinue the use of the "Fighting Sioux" logo and name, and replace it with just the ND logo. And the team by the way is nameless until at least 2015.

Speaking of other NDs, how come Notre Dame keeps getting away with "Fighting Irish?" As a third-generation Irish-American I feel the leprechaun logo with fists and the name demeans my people. It makes fun of their plight and shames those of us descendants of the potato famine immigrants who had to spend merciless weeks at sea only to come to a country that treated them like second-class citizens and forced many of their youth into a Civil War they knew nothing about.

If I ever really feel that way, I guess I've built a good case. But I don't because it's a silly mascot. So are the Redskins, Warriors, Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Cowboys, Roughnecks, Leathernecks etc. They're names, not actual people. In 2013, I think there are far more important issues to worry about.

However, if one thinks that the Redskins situation is unique to Washington D.C., you are mistaken. If the media and NFL commissioner get their way and drop the Redskins, the fallout will be felt from the nation's capital to Tehachapi.

What's in a name? Apparently a whole lot. What's riding on a name? More than we think, and I'm personally ready to fight for that again.


COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University Bakersfield.

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