ML Cavanaugh

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, PhD, is a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.

Last year, pro sports teams in Washington and Cleveland announced they’re dropping their racist mascots. Here in District 12, Cheyenne Mountain High School is poised to do the same, the school board having announced they’ll phase out their “Indian” mascot by August.

Let’s pause to celebrate discarding those disgusting nicknames. Mascots like those are relics of a bygone era, the same way we don’t burn witches at the stake anymore.

The issue is basic respect. We can’t teach kids not to call names on the playground when we celebrate name-calling on the ball field.

Particularly in this military town. Native Americans have fought with distinction in all our country’s wars. They deserve better.

But that’s the tip of the iceberg. There’s another problem lurking under the surface. There’s several other reasons Cheyenne Mountain High School must fix that mascot as soon as possible. “Indians” is boring, unoriginal, and it doesn’t reflect the community.

I’ve spent a lot of time around Cheyenne Mountain High School. I lived in the neighborhood for several years, hiked the surrounding trails, and still routinely pass by to take my kids up to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I’ve never seen a significant Native American presence there. No community centers dedicated to Native American culture. No tribal presence, period. Instead, I have seen a lot of card-carrying members of REI and Costco, an image which might not strike fear in opponents but would at least make for a more community-appropriate mascot than “Indians.”

But it’s not just that this mascot is out of place. The Gazette has reported that 7 other high schools in Colorado are also the “Indians,” making Cheyenne Mountain copycats at best, blah-blah-boring at worst, and the lame mascot problem unfortunately doesn’t end in District 12. It’s in District 14, too, where I live, where Manitou Springs High School is the “Mustangs.” Here’s the problem — there are no mustangs in Manitou. Maybe magicians, maybe some musicians, maybe some marijuana. But there are 14 other “Mustang” teams in this state. Isn’t Manitou supposed to be a creative community?

What emerged from the dustup over the Cheyenne Mountain mascot was that opposition to change comes mostly from past graduates, not current students.

They might not like to hear it, but past graduates have no standing in these decisions. Moreover, if any adult person — with a mortgage, a job, and a life — cares deeply about consistency in their former high school’s mascot, then their priories are out of place. The moment you toss that cap in the air is the moment you lose say on mascot selection.

Besides, bold mascot choices can turn out great. From 1930 to 1972, Stanford University was the “Indians.” They dropped that wretched name, and now they’re known as the “Crimson” (as in the color). They have no official mascot, though are often depicted as a redwood tree. Since this change, Stanford has been the most successful sports team in college athletics.

In 1994, Colorado College nearly changed their mascot from the “Tiger” to the “Cutthroat Trout,” Colorado’s state fish. It’s noteworthy because the wild greenback cutthroat trout can only be found in a stream near Cheyenne Mountain High School. Now that’s unique, that’s local, and maybe if CC had gotten off the boring-mascot-bandwagon, their sports teams would enjoy a little more success like Stanford.

This is bigger than sports though.

If we want our kids to be critical thinkers, let’s shake this up with something better. Let’s get creative, let’s get a team mascot that fits the community.

Let’s show students they don’t have to accept the world as it is. Everyone gets stuck with junk from the past, but sometimes, they get to write their own future. We know it’s possible. Look over at those Trinidad Mighty Miners, those Rocky Ford Meloneers, or those one-of-a-kind Aspen Skiers. That’s how it’s done.

So Salida Spartans —there are no Spartans in Salida. Fix it. Palmer Terrors and Air Academy Kadets, we see that eagle in your logo. There are 26 other “Eagles” in Colorado. Fix it. Manitou Springs High School, I really like the “Mountaineers.” Prominent peaks, America’s Mountain, no awkward gender issues, no racial or cultural baggage. Mountain expertise is cool, it’s unique, and it reflects the community. C’mon. Let’s get this thing done.

And Cheyenne Mountain, you’re easy. Just look in your backyard. I can see it now, the Cheyenne Mountain “Cutthroat Trouts,” the toughest little fishies in the state. In this case, CC’s mistake is CM’s gain.

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh (@MLCavanaugh) is a US Army officer, senior fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and writes a newsletter at StrategyNotes.co.

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