Q&A: Some criticize California’s ban on ‘Redskin’ name

There were cheers Sunday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation making California the first state in the nation to pass a law prohibiting public schools from using the term "Redskin" as a team name or mascot.

But the ban has been greeted more negatively in the small towns whose teams bear the name.

Q: What is the ban?

As of Jan. 1, 2017, all public schools will be barred from using the term "Redskin," which many Native Americans consider a racial slur. The measure by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) will allow schools that use materials that contain the term, such as uniforms, to phase out their use to alleviate cost concerns. 

Q: How many schools use the name?

The new law will affect four California high schools in Merced, Calaveras, Tulare and Madera counties.

Q: What has been the reaction in local communities?

It's been mixed. When the bill was first proposed earlier this year, some residents said they didn't understand the need for the change.

"There's no reason to change it," Eileen Ledgerwood, a Tulare High graduate, told the Visalia Times Delta.  "The marching band and the color guard represent it well.... I feel a sense of pride when I see the marching band in a parade. I highly support keeping the name."

Chowchilla Union High School Superintendent Ron Seals told the Chowchilla News earlier this year he didn't see the name as being offensive. “We call ourselves Redskins,” he said. “No one [connected with the school] has ever come to me and had anything negative to say about our mascot, and I’ve been here 24 years.”

Q: What do law backers say?

Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata, leaders of the advocacy group Change the Mascot, used the new California law to exert pressure on the Washington Redskins, the professional football team that has faced sharp criticism over its name.

"This landmark legislation eliminating the R-word in California schools clearly demonstrates that this issue is not going away, and that opposition to the Washington team on this issue is only intensifying. The NFL should act immediately to press the team to change the name,” Halbritter and Pata said in a statement Sunday.

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