Redskin redux

Balls, Pucks, and Monster Trucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  January 26, 2009

A couple months ago, when I wrote about the fact that the Sanford and Wiscasset high schools are the last remaining Maine schools using the mascot nickname “redskins,” Sanford principal Allan Young told me that if “redskin” critics called his students racists, he would support a change. (See “Last of the Redskins,” by Rick Wormwood, November 28, 2008.)

Well, Mr. Young, get on the horn. People who use the term, who support it, and who contort their logic to avoid acknowledging that the word is a hateful slur that disparages an entire race of people, are, I am sorry to say, racists. Therefore, if Sanford High students don’t care about the people they demean every time they utter the slur, then Sanford High students are racists, too. It’s simple.

This pains me to say, because I love Sanford. Good people live there, but too many are so closed-minded and provincial that they can’t admit things need to change. If the whole planet wanted them to get a new mascot, many Sanfordians would raise a middle finger, giving the old “Sanford salute.” If it’s Sanford against the world, that’s fine. They don’t care — that’s how it is anyway. My hometown (I’m SHS class of ’88) can be a pretty downtrodden place. According to the state Office of Economic and Community Development, Sanford led Maine in property foreclosures from September 2007 to November 2008. But being down on our luck (since the 1950s) doesn’t give us special dispensations.

School officials realize that “redskin” is a racist term. That’s why they don’t let kids cheer the slur at games. That’s why the slur is not on uniforms, and why most visual representations of the redskin have been removed. That’s why, when the Portland Press Herald refuses to print the slur, officials don’t call the newspaper to argue. School leaders don’t want to publicly say, Hey, all of you are wrong, “redskins” isn’t a racist slur! And why? Because “redskins” is a racist slur, and who wants to be the point man for an argument that makes you sound like the Grand Cyclops of the KKK?

Sanford officials have repeatedly minimized the redskin because of the potential controversy, and yet, perversely, when you speak to them about it, the sense emerges that the inevitable resistance from long-time redskin supporters is the only reason the nickname hasn’t been done away with entirely. Officials fear angering Sanford’s remaining redskin diehards, but officials don’t really want to use or defend the mascot in public, either. Unable to win, they lack the moral courage to do what is right. Better for them if it went away, and nobody talked about it.

But that’s cowardly. So I am starting a movement. OK, maybe not a movement. Just a Facebook group at first, but we’ll see how it goes. (It’s called “Sanford Needs A New Mascot” — join it!)

I am writing this on Martin Luther King Day, the day before the Sanford High School marching band participated in President Barack Obama’s inauguration. I bet those kids burst with pride while marching the capital streets, playing their instruments for the man who recently became America’s greatest, most hopeful symbol. What a strange juxtaposition: a black president who doesn’t define himself by the color of his skin, and a group of white kids who define themselves by the color of someone else’s skin. I think it’s time for Sanford (and Wiscasset, for that matter) to join the rest of the world in the current century.

Rick Wormwood can be reached at

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