Changing an offensive mascot can be tricky – and expensive

Tony Wagner Nov 12, 2015

Changing an offensive mascot can be tricky – and expensive

Tony Wagner Nov 12, 2015

What does it cost a high school to change an offensive mascot? Dozens them are trying to figure that out.


Since last week, when Adidas offered to help schools with Native American mascots and team nicknames rebrand, 68 schools have gotten in touch, Adidas spokesperson Maria Culp said. The company says about 2,000 of the 27,000 high schools nationwide could qualify.


Adidas has said it will donate design resources and money to offset the costs of replacing uniforms, but won’t yet say how much or how it’ll be distributed. To try and figure out what it actually costs for to make the change, we called a couple high schools with Native American names to talk about their experience.


“Uniform is only one little slice of many, many things,” said Jeff Leo, superintendent of the Banks school district in Banks, Oregon. “We’ve had this mascot for 75 years and we have imagery all over the district — the gym floor, you’d have to pull up part of the floor and sand it. There’s a lot of significant cost.”


Banks’ team nickname is the Braves, and its mascot is a Native American man. The school has to change that by 2017, the state board of education ruled earlier this year, as part of a statewide ban on tribal-themed team names that affects 15 schools. Leo estimated changing the mascot could cost upwards of $70,000.


It’s possible the district could be granted an exemption if it can make an agreement with a federally recognized tribe, and Leo said he’s pursuing that as the school waits for a decision.  Leo, who’s only been at Banks a few months, said the community of 1,000 strongly favors keeping the name. PTO members have been running up T-shirts reading “Banks Braves forever,” the Oregonian reported last month, and parents ordered multiple sizes so their children could grow into them over their schooling.


The district is still considering its options, including help from Adidas, Leo said, noting the school has worked with Nike for years on uniforms. If Banks does end up entering an agreement with a tribe, things could still change.  Even if they’re able to keep the Braves name, Leo said he’d consider changes to the school’s logo to make sure it’s respectful, and ensure their curriculum includes history of native Americans in Oregon.


“I want to do it in the most successful way possible, I completely understand why this is an issue,” he said.


The transition ended up being easier for Cooperstown Central School in upstate New York. It’s in its second season as the Hawkeyes.


Principal and athletic director Michael Cring said changing Cooperstown’s team name from the Redskins had come up several times in his 20 years at the school, but efforts fizzled. By the time the Cooperstown school board made the change in 2013, the school didn’t actually display the name in that many places, he said. The teams’ away uniforms displayed the village’s name andsome warm-ups and home uniforms did too.


“There was some conscious thought to that,” Cring said. “You were trying to be cognizant and sensitive to it so it didn’t end up emblazoned everywhere.”


The gym floor was adorned with a giant C, and the school kept its logo, an illustration by James Fenimore Cooper. The new name is also a Cooper character.


The remaining expenses – some banners here, some merchandise there – were mostly covered by a $10,000 gift from the Oneida Indian nation. Still, even with all this going for it, the name change didn’t always come easy for the community, Cring said.


“The one thing I always said and I’d felt was, our school colors are this, our kids are going to take pride in the traditions we have, and they’re still going to go out there and competing,” Cring said. “It hasn’t changed how our kids compete, how they try in the classrooms or on the athletic field. That’s the most important thing.”

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