Roper: The weird irony of school mascot controversies

“Who’s leading these campaigns – Andrew Jackson? The only good Native American Mascot is a dead Native American Mascot?”

Portland State Vikings mascot, at left. Green Mountain High School Chieftains logo, at right.

by Robert Roper

Over the past few years our Vermont public schools have been dealing with some incredibly difficult issues that have shredded the fabric of classrooms, pitted student against student, disrupted the learning environment, and caused outrageous outbursts at school board meetings. No, I’m not talking about Covid 19 policy, the rise in mental health issues with children, the increasing opioid epidemic and its trickle-down impact on kids, or cratering test scores. I’m talking about the sinister presence of ostensibly offensive mascots throughout our landscape.

The latest example chronicled by VT Digger has to do with the Green Mountain Union High School’s “Chieftains” team name, which is according to some offensive to Native Americans. This is an odd accusation as Native American tribal leaders aren’t really associated with the term chieftain. “Chief,” yes, but “chieftain” is a title referring to Celtic clan leaders. (Hence the name of the famous Irish folk band, The Chieftains, who at least according to a quick perusal Wikipedia, have not been labeled as racist yet and do not have plans to change their name.)

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Apparently after back-and-forth decisions about whether to keep the name or replace the name the school board decided on a 6-5 vote to keep “Chieftains.” Okay. Whatever. Time to move along like adults and get down to the job of making sure the kids can do math and read at grade level, right?

Oh no…

Following the vote two school board members and the school’s superintendent resigned rather than live with the horror. Is this what a real commitment to the children looks like? And what a shining example of temper tantrum politics. The message sent: find offense anywhere you think you can manufacture a spark of outrage, and if you can’t persuade others to go along, disengage in a state of emotional paralysis. Sadly, it’s a message a generation of kids is absorbing.

This latest episode echoes a similar controversy surrounding the Rutland Raiders team name and logo of a stone arrowhead. Again, “raiders” isn’t really a word anyone would readily associate with Native Americans. If the term conjures any images of a particular culture, it would probably be the Viking raider, but really anyone from anywhere can be “one who raids.” Every culture has had its share of raiders from Genghis Kahn to Carl Icahn. My own hometown high school team in Stowe is coincidentally also The Raiders, and the mascot is a pirate. He is differently abled having lost an eye, a hand, and a leg below the knee, so maybe he will survive this woke purge. Time will tell.

Go Stowe!

As for the flint arrowhead, if anyone gets to place a cultural patent claim on that imagery that shall not be appropriated, the Neanderthals are going to win that court fight.

Nevertheless, this controversy consumed years in a back-and-forth fight between advocates for keeping the Raiders name and advocates for changing the name to the Ravens. (Side note to this group: in terms of literary and cultural reference ravens symbolize loss and ill omen? Definitely an odd choice of banner to send your athletes out onto the field under if you’re rooting for a victory.) The situation was finally resolved by just calling the teams “Rutland.” To the point, but… Woo hoo.

These fights are more than just harmless virtue signaling. They do come with a real cost. It’s not as if changing a team name means crossing one word out with a Sharpie and scribbling in a new one. Last year the legislature (yes, those wonderful folks we send to Montpelier to tackle the big issues) passed a bill stemming from the Rutland fight titled, “An act relating to public schools’ or public postsecondary schools’ mascots, nicknames, logos, letterhead, and team names.” Changing all of that stuff – uniforms, scoreboards, stationary, all the swag in the bookstore – is hugely expensive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that just possibly might be better spent elsewhere.

But let’s grant the premise here for the sake of argument that a name and logo like that of the Raiders or the Chieftains has ties to Native American culture. What’s really offensive here? Keeping and honoring a Native American symbol of pride, community spirit and strength, or eradicating it precisely because it is Native American. Who’s leading these campaigns, Andrew Jackson? The only good Native American Mascot is a dead Native American Mascot?

It’s fine for mascots to be Celtics (basically the white, European version of Native American Indian tribes), Whalers (white Quakers for the most part), Patriots (old, dead white guys), Yankees (white North-easterners), Spartans or Trojans (white founders of Western civilization), Pirates (though the crews were diverse, the famous captains were mostly white), Knights (white defenders of monarchy and a hierarchical society), Vikings (whitest of the white guys),…. But, increasingly and oddly in these days of supposed inclusivity, Mascots of Color need not apply. And if one already has the job, prepare to be eliminated.

You pick a team name and mascot because it’s something to look up to that will inspire and bring respect. What message does it send to young students when your policy insists that filling such a role with certain people or elements of certain cultures is inappropriate and undesirable?

Some might argue that these mascots were put in place in less sensitive times and are therefore inherently reflective of that insensitivity. (Yeah… Redskins… I get it.) But, if that’s the case, why aren’t modern-day team names and mascots that are up-to-date and reflective of that sensitivity being offered as replacements? If Raiders or Chieftains is somehow an offensive representation of a Native Americans as a symbol of pride and strength for all to rally around, what’s an appropriate one? If the answer is “there is none,” well, that’s pretty darned offensive, is it not?

If a community wants to change the name of its school sports teams, that is certainly the community’s prerogative. Do what makes you all happy (as opposed to what just pisses everybody off). But, at the end of the day, how much mental and emotional energy do we really want to spend bickering about, ultimately, what drunken teenagers spray-paint onto highway underpasses before the big game?

Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics,

Categories: Commentary

6 replies »

  1. Thank you for pointing out how childish these surposedly woke people really are! How sad that they have gotten into our government and schools to push their agenda, I hope the lesson our children learn is not to act like them when they become adults.

  2. Tired of this same inane discussion whilst our entire society is being destroyed. This is ALL about nothing less than total control by the government and leftist virtue signaling.
    And with that, despite their probable objections, however, I maintain we should nevertheless provide for mascot naming for the VT legislature itself: “The Idiots”.
    I approve. There is something to be said for sheer honesty & truthfulness – no matter how offensive it might be to some.

  3. An enjoyable read, Rob. I agree completely on the “Chieftains” name being connected to Scots rather than Indians. Dick McCormack thinks the word should be banned by government edict, but I fail to see how it is not a generic term. However, I must differ re your aspersion that pirates are mostly white. The Barbary Pirates barbarically plundered the seas — and took white slaves — for centuries. Just saying, piracy is colorblind.

  4. Excellent and well written. It is absolutely ridiculous how much time and effort goes into this stuff. Dealing with the same issue here in Randolph as the Galloping Ghosts have been deemed offensive because to some students they bring back memories of the Klan. I nominate the rainbow trout as a universal mascot.

    Interestingly, a friend of mine lives in Arizona and worked with a lot of Navajo’s. He said that many of them had Redskins logos on their pick up trucks.

  5. The people doing the rabble rousing in Rutland were/are paid activists who are going from school board to school board to condemn the logos that THEY deem offensive. It is important topoint out that the bill passed in our illustrious legislature, was an agenda of William Notte and his wife. THEY were determined to get rid of the Rutland Mascot, when she herself had designed it while in high school. Mr Notte had no other reason to be elected to legislature and he was provided with shiny hand bills promoting his agenda. Those were paid for with out of state dollars and a PAC!! The schoolboard in Rutland did nothing for almost 2 years for the kids in school. THAT is the travesty.

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