California bill would ban ‘Redskins’ as school team name or mascot

Students listen as the Lancaster New York School Board voted to retire the Redskins team mascot and nickname in that town last year. A similar effort is underway in California.
(Jen Fuller / Associated Press)

Public schools in California would have to phase out use of the term “Redskins” for their athletic team names or mascots under a bill advanced Tuesday by a state Assembly panel.

The California Racial Mascots Act would bar the use of the name by public schools beginning Jan. 1. But to address cost issues, the measure would allow schools to continue to use sports and band uniforms and other materials bearing the name as long as they selected a new name for future use and did not buy all new uniforms bearing the old name.

Schools would be able to replace up to 20% of uniforms with the old name until Jan. 1, 2019.

“There is obviously a lack of respect when we allow teams to brand themselves with racial slurs,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), the bill’s author. “The R-word was once used to describe Native American scalps sold for bounty, and in today’s society it has become widely recognized as a racial slur.”


Alejo noted that in 1972, Stanford switched its team name from the Indians to the Cardinal. “Other universities and hundreds of high schools have followed suit since then,” he said.

The Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media approved the bill, which goes to another committee before it can reach the Assembly floor.

One backer of the measure is the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Northern California tribe that last year launched a campaign against the Washington Redskins professional football team.

“There doesn’t have to be a racist intent to produce a racist outcome,” tribe leaders wrote in a letter to lawmakers.


The legislation would prohibit schools from buying or distributing yearbooks, newspapers, programs or other materials that bear the name “Redskins.”

There are four public schools in California that use the term for their teams. One is Gustine High School in Merced County, which uses it for the football team.

The bill, AB 30, is opposed by the town of Gustine, which has a population of about 5,500. In a letter to legislators, city leaders called for the decision to be made locally.

“At no time in the 80 years that Gustine High School has proudly displayed the Redskins mascot has any disparaging or derogatory use of the Redskin moniker taken place,” the letter said.

“The respect that the community and the School District have for Native Americans is clear and well documented. We believe that allowing the local control process to play out is the most appropriate way to address this matter,” it said.

The Assembly committee also voted Tuesday to support a bill that would direct the California Interscholastic Federation to develop guidelines for the purpose of classifying cheerleading as an interscholastic sport starting in 2017.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said her proposal, AB 949, would provide better training, safety and facilities for cheerleaders at a time when many are injured doing complicated acrobatics.

“Cheerleaders are athletes, and it is time to recognize cheerleading as an official sport in school,” Gonzalez said.


Twitter: @mcgreevy99

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