Regular readers of my column (all three of them) won't be surprised that my New Year's wish is for Sanford High, my alma mater, to finally put aside the racist mascot name of "redskins." That's not surprising. Here's something odd, though: I realized that Sanford High principal Allan Young is the perfect person to finally carry this worthy idea to victory. It is true that Young is the most committed public supporter of the Sanford Redskins. That's what makes Young's eventual leading of the needed transition so tremendous. It's a bold move in the mold of an unlikely inspiration: America's 37th president, Richard Milhous Nixon.
In the early '70s, Cold War fears of communism still gripped. President Nixon's historic trip opening diplomatic relations with China in February 1972 would have left most other presidents vulnerable to the charge of being soft on commies, something Nixon's long anti-communism resume precluded. Congressman Nixon investigated purported Soviet spy and convicted perjurer Alger Hiss. He later won his Senate seat by painting Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas as a communist dupe. As vice-president, Nixon engaged Khrushchev in the impromptu "kitchen debate." Because of all these things and more, conventional wisdom holds that only Nixon had the credibility to go to China, and now, in 2011, we all know that it's a damn good thing he did. If Nixon hadn't parlayed with Chairman Mao in Beijing, then what country would have bought our mountainous American debt, or have sold us cheap, poisonous dog food?
The same way that Nixon's credentials allowed him to go to China and retain credibility, Sanford's Young, the most ardent Redskin supporter, could convince the wider SHS community that it's time to embrace a new image for their school. Then Young could lead Sanford through choosing a new, non-divisive, mascot for their teams (there are so many possibilities, just pick one!), and not surrender one iota of the respect that he rightfully enjoys in that community. It would be the right thing to do. All that Young needs is a Come-To-Jesus Moment, so he could realize for himself what is self-evident to so many other people of good will.
This past May, I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at a symposium on Native American mascot names in Bangor. For the first time I was able to meet a cross-section of leaders from Maine's tribes, and I was surprised by how large Young loomed in their minds. The impression I got was that they considered Young hostile, a holdout and outright enemy to their cause. They spoke of him with disdain. I stuck up for Young, telling them that I had met him once, and that he wasn't a bad person or a racist. In fact, Young was a really nice guy, I protested. It was just that his background somehow prevents him from empathizing with the people his school's mascot parodies and slurs.
That logic was too fine a point to sway many of the tribal leaders. Some of those same men are part of the Maine Tribal Commission, a group that recently announced plans to ask the Legislature to ban Maine schools from using American Indian nicknames in the coming year. If that happens (and it should), schools forced to change will endure a bumpier transition than schools that were smart enough, empathetic enough, to avoid such a humiliating necessity.
That's where Principal Young, channeling the best parts of Tricky Dick, comes in — doing what's right for his students. Here's hoping, anyway.
Have a Happy New Year, friends.
Rick Wormwood can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.