Today Major League Baseball and the Boston Red Sox can take some lessons in following the right rules from a small Oregon School District. With the option to avoid change the Warrenton-Hammond School District chose for two of its schools teams, the Braves and the Warriors, through a unanimous vote Tuesday night 5/10/2016 to remove their Native American identity. While the public statements have reflected an awareness of the impact of imagery on Native American students those in education surely understand the impact of imagery on all students. They could have petitioned a local tribe to support the current team identity but chose the stronger path intentionally. The School Board should be proud.
My personal experience over quite a few years though cautions me to be wary for them since often even the mention of the topic of sports' teams identities can be incendiary. Only those who like a fight step up but frequently they can be loud, persistent and insulting. I have never posted the comments I receive on Cleveland.com on MLB Home Opener Day when I bring up the team identity--which I always do with new information, presented politely and of course encouraging change. Suffice it to say the uber hostile trolls are fully engaged, ready for a fight--which I never give them--and always eager to get nastier than the previous troll's comment. I do thankfully have the option of flagging posts, a feature not available in person or in the earlier years past when I online. The number removed by Cleveland.com staff this year was noteworthy.
In reality rebranding is always possible. When people are in a learning setting new facts, history and new perspectives nicely presented generally excite them. We humans are naturally curious creatures. Education can help establish new norms and a good approach for those who find themselves in conversational or teaching positions is, again in my experience, to start by asking questions. Essentially let the stalwart resistors fighting positive change convince themselves. In person, when everyone is clear headed sometimes real progress occurs.
Listen during the answers. Rarely, if ever, interrupt but do not let a pontificator control the situations. I promise with practice it gets much easier and quite a bit of fun. Learning some history around the issue, school, location, or given the topic, Native American history beyond the textbooks can in time let you expand the conversations.
Some general questions, asked nicely and if possible with some humor can be:
- You seem really fixed on the current identity?
- Why? I am just curious I guess. I'd like to understand.
- Well we all know life is about change--good change right? Even the seasons change and that's a good thing. Right?
- We want to do right by our kids, well at least I know I do. Don't you? School is about learning, don't you think?
- So by having the change we can teach our kids to be good, they can learn about history and how it is all about change and be leaders in the change. What's not to like? We aren't living in anything but the 21st century and we do have to prepare our kids for today?
There will be some who for whatever reason still resist but with community support, knowing other schools, even college teams have changed their identities and having someone on hand to present the research support for the power of images, support for the change can grow within the entire community and beyond. The few who continue to resist will likely go quiet in public but in general very few people want to be the last holdout for an unpopular social situation no matter what it is. Since everything in the questions is true somewhere deep inside those who essentially fear the change or fear life in general for (whatever reason do) still hold a light, maybe a tiny one, but a glow at least of acceptance and understanding. Maybe their personal team experience was tied to the old identity, maybe they have personal reasons to either ridicule or harbor feelings of revenge against the trivialized group--caricatures, never honor, they diminish and always trivialize. With some forethought and effort the courageous school board can do the community proud, come out building community spirit and truly educate the children for the 21st century connected world we all share today. The entire Warrenton-Hammond School System can be proud, too.
Now about those Red Sox--Boston team leadership still plays fast and loose with rules. The complete story is long but in essence already working under a penalty for questionable international recruiting practices the team recruiters repeated their previous behavior to the extent that the MLB is investigating AGAIN. I applaud Major League Baseball for the attempt at change. It is time though to make change a reality. Boston, are you listening? The opportunity here is truly huge. More on that next time.