Opinion: Washington's nickname change begs question — isn't it time some Oklahoma schools switch, too?
Washington’s NFL team is looking for a new nickname.
Which begs a question.
Why are there still schools in Oklahoma using the R-word as their mascot?
Yes, plenty of people today are instead asking what the new nickname will be for the pro football team in our nation’s capital. In announcing the retirement of the racial slur as team nickname, the franchise said it plans to have a new mascot before the start of the 2020 season.
I’m sure they’ll come up with something.
Just as I’m sure Tulsa Union and Kingston, McLoud and Rush Springs could come up with something, too. Those are the high schools in Oklahoma still using the R-word as their nickname.
Tulsa Union, by the way, is scheduled to discuss changing its mascot during a school board meeting Monday night. It just so happens the meeting will come about 12 hours after Washington’s announcement. Here’s hoping one of the state’s most successful and highest profile high school athletic departments will follow suit.
The nickname has to go.
And it’s not the only one.
I’m looking at you, too, Broken Bow, LeFlore, Quinton, Tecumseh and Wynnewood. Savages isn’t acceptable either.
And while we’re at it, Silo, why in the world are you the Rebels? You even have that Colonel Reb-looking character as your mascot; it’s the first image on your website. Ole Miss retired its Colonel more than a decade ago, and with Mississippi removing the Confederate flag from its state flag, would anyone be surprised to see “Rebels” one day changed, too?
Listen, I understand changing nicknames is a big deal. It’s baked into the history. It’s seared into the memories. But if Washington, one of the NFL’s oldest and most storied franchises, can do it, it’s possible for anyone.
Possible doesn’t mean easy, of course.
It costs money, for starters. Daniel Snyder and his cohorts in Washington's ownership have plenty of that to help them in coming up with a new nickname for their NFL team. And when it comes to getting new helmets and new jerseys and new signage around the stadium and new letterhead for the executives and new, well, everything, that can be managed.
But what do the finances look like for a school district in Oklahoma?
At a time when funds are tight everywhere, the cost of changing a mascot is not insignificant.
Five years ago, Capitol Hill did away with its R-word mascot. The Oklahoma City high school which has about 1,200 students estimated the total initial cost in changing the nickname would be about $230,000.
That price tag would fluctuate depending on the size of the school and how many teams and facilities had to be rebranded.
At Tulsa Union, for example, changing nicknames is likely to be a huge cost. It is one of the state’s largest school districts, so even if we just look at uniforms, we’re looking at a huge number. It’s not just because the rosters for the high school teams are super sized. It’s also because of the massive cheer squads and pom teams and marching band.
And that doesn’t even get into the junior varsity, freshmen and middle school teams.
Even for a well-funded district like Tulsa Union, the cost to change will be significant.
But here’s the thing: if we are serious about rooting out systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and using this moment as a launching pad for social justice, diversity, equality and inclusion, we can’t turn a blind eye to these racist nicknames. They have taken culture and turned it into a costume.
They are demeaning and derogatory toward Native Americans.
It's why U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, sent letters in 2013 and 2014 to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Snyder urging a name change.
"I have long been supportive of retiring the offensive name and changing it to one that honors Native Americans," Cole told The Oklahoman on Monday. "This is indeed a step in the right direction. Those who made it are to be commended for doing the right thing.”
Snyder and Washington finally did it. But what of the schools in our state that keep such nicknames? What message are they sending to our children? That some racism is OK? That wearing black face is abhorrent but “war paint” is OK? That saying the N-word is detestable but cheering for the R-word is fine?
If we say one is fine, if we have our teams run out of teepees and do the “Tomahawk Chop” during games, it creates an understanding in young minds that the race of another can be belittled and mocked. It plants the seeds for racism in another generation.
A petition recently created calling for a prep school in Phoenix to create anti-racist education said it best: “Education is the most valuable tool to dismantle racism and create a more equitable society.”
Our children are going to learn lessons about race in school one way or another. So, if your school has one of these derogatory nicknames, you have to ask yourself a question today.
What lessons are they teaching your children?
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.