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Post Washington Redskins Controversy
Created by John Eipper on 06/30/14 9:18 AM

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Washington Redskins Controversy (Randy Black, USA, 06/30/14 9:18 am)

John Eipper continues to take cheap shots at Native Americans and football teams, while Brian Blodgett (29 June) asks questions.

Brian asked: "The Washington DC football team recently had its trademark rights to the name pulled, yet you [Randy Black] signed your post 'Go Redskins.' Were you referring to the football team, and if so, since it seems to bother so many Native Americans (or so it is reported), does it really bother them as much as we hear?"

My answer is: 1) my signature "Go Redskins" was sarcasm, and 2) I've never heard a Native American, or anyone else for that matter, in my circle of friends complain about the Washington Redskins' name. When the controversy comes up and it does, the consensus is that the matter is political and originates in Washington, DC.

Even the Feds admit that only a small percentage of Native Americans have been surveyed and/or have expressed a negative opinion of the football team's name.

John Eipper, on the other hand, seems to formulate his position based on his personal value-set that the Redskins name is politically incorrect when he states, "The federal court decision was clearly a case of legislating from the bench, but it was for a good cause. It's hard to believe that in the 21st century, a professional sports team can continue to use such an offensive stereotype."

I must ask, "it was a good cause, according to whom?"

Personally, I find it hard to believe that "in the 21st century," anyone would assume that because the Feds legislated from the bench, it was a just and valid move.

But then we are a nation where the sitting President publicly stated this week that, notwithstanding "the laws passed by Congress, he will continue to do things his way."

More to the point, the decision to overturn 75 plus years of trademark law in the case of the Redskins, was a political move that likely came from within the Obama Administration and which will be overturned in my humble opinion, much as his illegal moves to appoint his cronies to the National Labor Relations Board two years ago were this week. This trademark matter was already overturned a decade ago but keeps coming back. The last time the Trademark ruled that the Redskins were wrong on their name, the court that overturned the decision stated that those suing were "too old." Thus, a decade later, the plaintiffs assembled a younger group of people to sue.

One can conclude that the USA is no longer a land of majority rule. Instead we are faced with a country where even tiny minorities can change the rules regarding fixing something that was not broken.

Attendance at the games of the Washington Redskins has been steady for decades. Along came a couple of unknown tribes and a few hundred activists and voila, the US Trademark Office decides to withdraw rights that have existed since 1932. Clearly, someone made an "end run" to get something done that was not wanted by the majority.

As Redskins trademark lawyer Bob Raskoph said,, "And just like last time, today's ruling will have no effect at all on the team's ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.

"We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's divided ruling will be overturned on appeal," Raskoph said. "This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins' trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board."

RB: This current dust up is a repeat of the same lawsuit that was "won" in 1999 by a few Native Americans but that was overturned on appeal in 2003. The message remains, "You don't like the name, don't support that team or buy their tee shirts."

Just so you'll know, the only members of Congress that supported this lawsuit were 50 Democrats in the Senate. The leader of that group was the usual suspect, Harry Reid. Before moving on, let's look at the facts: There are about 2 million Native Americans enrolled in 566 federally recognized tribes and about 3.2 million who tell the Census Bureau that they have Native American blood. According to the Associated Press, 90 percent do not have a problem or find the name offensive.

Again, according to the Associate Press, there are Native American schools across the nation, which name their athletic teams "Redskins."

Tommy Yazzie, superintendent of the Red Mesa school district on the Navajo Nation reservation, grew up when Navajo children were forced into boarding schools to disconnect them from their culture. Some were punished for speaking their native language. Today, he sees environmental issues as the biggest threat to his people.

The high school football team in his district is the Red Mesa Redskins.

From the AP: In 2004, the National Annenberg Election Survey asked 768 people who identified themselves as Indian whether they found the name "Washington Redskins" offensive. Almost 90 percent said it did not bother them.

Trivia: How did the football team get the name, Redskins? The white owner of the team when it was founded, George Preston Marshall, chose the name in 1932 "partly to honor the head coach, William 'Lone Star' Dietz, who was known as an Indian (Sioux tribe). Mr. Dietz (1884-1964), in fact, never demonstrated proof that he was Native American but that's moot at this point after 77 years."

Additionally, the team's first owner was the last NFL team to sign black players and only did so when forced by the federal government in 1962 but again, is it relevant?

Now, about the Coachella Valley High School Fighting Arabs. Yes, it is a real high school near Indio, Calif. They've been called the Arabs since 1931. My first wife taught there for three years and at the time. We both thought the name a bit odd. They remain the "Arabs" to this day. The student body at the time we lived nearby was far and away of Mexican origin. No one cared then, or apparently now.

We lived near that campus in the late 1960s-early '70s and their mascot is a characterized student getup of an angry Arab, oversized headgear and costume complete with silk pants, fez and shirt and a curved blade sword.

Then there's the Atlanta Braves and their famous "Tomahawk Chop" rallying cry, the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois, the Chicago Blackhawks with their Native American mascot who wears war paint, the Kansas City Chiefs and Chief Wahoo who wears full war paint and feather headdress, the Florida State University Seminoles and a few hundred teams using the Redskins name or other Indian names and trademarks.

And let's not forget the Edmonton Eskimos, the Golden State Warriors or the Cleveland Indians. Other teams include the Shawnee High School Renegades in New Jersey, the Broken Arrow High School Savages, the Savages name being share with 11 other high schools from Oklahoma to Montana, the Warriors, shared by more than 75 school across the nation, and even the Dearborn Heights (Middle School) Redskins in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

Note: Florida State University pays a royalty fee to the Seminole Tribe for the use of the "trademarked" Seminole name. They only started paying for the use of the name after a protest by the tribe in 1972. This, it's all about money as to whether or not an Indian tribe is "offended."

Finally, according to Sport Illustrated in 2002, "There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue."



JE comments:  I cannot fathom how describing the Redskins mascot as offensive is a "cheap shot" at Native Americans, but Randy Black and I will have to agree to disagree.  Note that at the first link above, a 2001 poll from Indian Country Today found that 81% of the respondents consider Native American sports mascots deeply disparaging.  Randy does not mention this survey.

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  • Washington Redskins Controversy (Brian Blodgett, USA 07/01/14 3:43 AM)
    I have been teaching a Native American history course for several years, and we cover up to the present day, with every other week focusing on current events involving Native Americans. This is a general education course, and when I asked about the trademark issue and the Washington Redskins, I had many replies, but I asked one student for permission to use his response for this Forum, which he granted.

    "One of the main reasons for the pressure in changing the name of the team is that America is changing. The traditional white hegemony is diminishing because America is emerging as a multicultural society. Though the US Patent Office came out against the name as offensive and in addition [there is] political support for the name change. You had mentioned before, Professor, why now, why so much political and social pressure? It is simply reflecting a changing demographics, and as the demographics change so to does the value system. Even though civil rights groups have put pressure on the team to change their name for years they could never get consensus until now. Why now is because the zeitgeist has changed in the United States to reflex and new and still emerging social order. Where the once white majority had no problem morally with the name since their power came from the battles fought in the past against the native peoples. When differing cultures go to war it is sometimes customary to use the name of a defeated people. A name means more than just a name; it is a sign of power over a people and control. In addition, using a name such as the Redskins also shows how difficult that struggle was for early America. Conversely having the power to force Washington Redskins to change their name is an example of the new multicultural society flexing its muscle against the old white majority that is now fading from history."

    JE comments: It is unsurprising that the Native American sports mascots have been abandoned first at universities (such as my Alma Mater, Dartmouth, in the 1970s). High school and professional teams are lagging behind. But as Brian Blodgett's student argues, changing demographics and values in this country are real.  Finding a new mascot is a symbolic act that won't right past wrongs or improve the lives of Native Americans today, but it is one more step in the direction of replacing white privilege with a new pluralistic society.

    My thanks to Brian's student for sharing his response with WAIS.  Brian:  when you have the chance, I'd like to know more about your course.

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    • Washington Redskins Controversy (Cameron Sawyer, USA 07/02/14 4:30 AM)

      I don't actually think that the name of the Washington Redskins was ever intended to be demeaning to American Indians. On the contrary, I think it shows admiration--a desire for the team to play the way the brave warriors fought against European oppression.

      I guess what was intended is not important if people in fact feel demeaned, and in such a case the name should probably be changed. But if I were an American Indian (which I am not; so have no right to an opinion, I guess), I think I would be proud that such an important American sports team pays tribute to my ancestors.

      JE comments:  Perhaps there was no original intent to demean, but it's dehumanizing to include Native Americans alongside Lions, Jaguars, and Bears in the football world's bestiary.  To be sure, our friends who happen to be wranglers (Dallas), pirates of various stripes (Tampa Bay and Oakland), Minutemen (Boston/New England) or pugilistic citizens of the Emerald Isle (Notre Dame) might take equal offense.  And where is the rage from the world community of Saints (New Orleans)?

      I'll concur with Cameron Sawyer that if some Native Americans feel demeaned by the Washington Redskins, then the name should be changed.  Imagine a sports mascot featuring caricatured African-Americans, Jewish Americans, or Mexican-Americans.  If such were the case, I doubt we'd be having this discussion.  Coachella Valley High School in California, mentioned in Randy Black's last post, is sticking with their Arab name--although the hook-nosed, grimacing mascot will be getting a makeover.  Still, the controversy continues, and it's just a matter of time before they'll need a new mascot:


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      • Washington Redskins Controversy (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/03/14 5:35 AM)
        While this controversy is not of much importance to me, my bewilderment about it is. I share Cameron Sawyers's impression (2 July) that "the name of the Washington Redskins was never intended to be demeaning to American Indians." I would name my team Braves, Lions, Tigers, Redskins, because these are symbols for strength, courage, speed, etc. Certainly nothing negative.

        While I unfortunately have no American Indian blood in my veins (just a little Guarani blood), if I did I would be proud if some rich white guys want to name their team after my race. I am aware of no complaints from Native Americans, just politicians with nothing useful to do. Am I wrong?

        JE comments: I can accept that the "rich white guys" did not intend to demean by naming their team the Redskins. It wouldn't have occurred to them (the rich white guys) that it's possible to demean Native Americans; ditto for tigers, bears, and broncos.  And that's the whole point, as I see it.

        The lion lies with the lamb: this may be the first time Tor Guimaraes and Randy Black have agreed on an issue! Randy's followup is next in the queue. At least Bienvenido Macario (his post follows Randy's) is with me on the Redskins brouhaha.

        (Between Tor and Randy, I'm not sure who is the lion and which one the lamb.  Both are steadfast WAISers, and that's what matters.)

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      • More on Washington Redskins Controversy (Randy Black, USA 07/03/14 5:47 AM)
        In our discussion about the rights of a corporation to call itself the Washington Redskins, Cameron Sawyer (1 July) sells himself short when he implies that because he is not an American Indian, he (may have) no right to offer opinions. Of course he has a right to offer his opinions on any topic. That's what we're all about in WAIS.

        If we were only allowed to opine about stuff in which we're actually "blood," John Eipper would keep his nose out of the fray. Instead, JE offers his own views that seem to support the tiny, tiny minority of Native Americans. President Obama only offered that if it were his team, he'd "consider" changing the team's name.

        Background: Twenty-eight years ago, a group of five American Indian activists filed their complaint before the US Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark and Appeal Board, Seventeen years later, they won their complaint when the Board ruled against the Redskins. A couple of years later, that Board was reversed in a real Federal Court.

        Regarding last month's ruling, the losing side from 1986 complaint recruited a new, younger group of Indians--Plaintiffs led by Amanda Blackhorse, age 24 when she filed the current complaint in 2006. Blackhorse is a Navajo social worker living in Arizona. In their complaint, the current group of activists used short movie clips to demonstrate that the term "redskins" was an ethnic slur.

        Blackhorse's group offered up video clips were from a 1949 TV show, "The Lone Ranger," and movies "Broken Arrow," 1950, "Ride ‘Em Cowboy," 1942, and "Once Upon a Time in the West," 1968.

        From what I gather from media articles and legal pundits, this ruling does not mean the football team cannot use the Redskins name; it simply means they cannot protect their trademark from copycats if and only if they lose their appeal. Even if the team loses their appeal, they can still use the name; but without trademark protections. Yawn.

        If Cameron's supposition were the rule, as a card-carrying citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, I would be the only one in this room allowed to offer an opinion on the matter.

        And in the unlikely event that you're interested in my position, I support the Washington Redskins' right to any name they choose, just as long as the Dallas Cowboys continue to win.

        If we are to follow Cameron's inference, then no one who is not a card-carrying Scandinavian can offer opinions about the Minnesota Vikings and so on and so forth. Where will this silliness end?

        To borrow from Mark Davis, a North Texas AM radio guy (remember AM radio?):

        "Revisit the Basic Truth of Sports Team Names: No one has ever named a team for something they considered dishonorable or distasteful. Every name ever affixed to a team has been to portray the team in a positive light. This was true of the Boston Redskins when they adopted that imagery 80 years ago, and it was true when the team name stuck five years later in a move to Washington.

        "At that time, and today, Redskin has no body of usage as an epithet in its own right. None. The attachment of a negative modifier in old movies (dirty, bloody) no more stigmatizes the term itself than the adjectives that have been attached to Yankee over the years, and that doesn't seem to torture New Yorkers.

        "As with most things, this has a marketplace solution. If the team senses that enough regular people--not posturing politicians or opportunistic activists--are sincerely offended by the name, they will change it.

        "Until then, anyone professing a deep wound at the sound of Redskins should dial back the drama and look at history. And any newspaper or website banning the publication of the name should be ashamed of bending to the modern whims of noxious political correctness." (From The Dallas Morning News, Oct. 2013)

        By the way, Mr. Davis is a damn Yankee, being from College Park, Maryland. His show is on KSKY, 660 AM daily in the Dallas market. But we don't hold his Yankee beginnings against him. As the bumper stickers say, "I wasn't born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could."

        JE comments: Randy Black is calling me more extreme on this issue than...President Obama? Zounds!

        Next up:  Bienvenido Macario.

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        • Is Maryland a "Yankee" State? (Cameron Sawyer, USA 07/03/14 5:18 PM)
          A native of Maryland is a "damned Yankee"? (See Randy Black, 3 July.)  Wait a minute... Maryland is a lot more South than North, and most Marylanders would surely object to this.

          Returning to the Redskins controversy, I'd like to clarify my position on who and who is not entitled to an opinion on what matter.

          I didn't intend to say that no one can have an opinion on anything where that person is not "blood." That sounds like the old argument that men have no right to an opinion on abortion. I surely don't agree with this.

          What I meant was that as a non-Indian I have no right to an opinion on the narrow issue of whether the Washington Redskins name is offensive to Indians or not. That is surely none of my business to decide what is offensive or not, since offensiveness is an entirely subjective matter.

          JE comments:  Mark Davis, the radio announcer of Randy Black's post, is from College Park, Maryland, which is just outside of Washington, DC.  Maryland was a slaveholding state, and Baltimore was largely sympathetic with the South during the Civil War.  Washington of course was another matter.  So I'll go with Cameron on this one:  while there have always been Yankees in the DC area, it isn't completely accurate to call Marylanders "Yankees"--at least not historically.  

          And then you have cities like Miami, with its (tropicalized) Yankee personality despite its southern location.

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          • Maryland, "Damn Yankees," and True Deep Southerners (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/05/14 4:39 PM)
            Tongue in cheek, Maryland natives need to put their proverbial feet down regarding being called "damned Yankees."  (See Randy Black, 3 July.) My wife, a native Minnesotan, gets jokingly verbally abused at every opportunity by our Tennessean Old Boys' club for being a "damned Yankee."

            When I am present, I immediately try to protect her by attacking the attackers. Since everything is relative, I tell them that where I come from, the real Deep South (Brazil), all US Americans are "damned Yankees." I also tell them that I am trying to learn to be a Southern redneck and have already read three books about it. My biggest problems are lifting my house so I can fit at least five dogs underneath, and getting my wife to agree to two wrecked cars on cement blocks on the front lawn.

            JE comments:  It's interesting that Brazil's "Deep South" states (São Paulo down to Rio Grande do Sul) are culturally the most "Yankee" regions of the country.

            Someday I'd like to start a discussion on "neo-redneckism," by which I mean the conscious adoption of Good Ol' Boy values and behavior.  My Delaware-born father was something of a practitioner before it became fashionable, in Missouri in the 1970s, when he embraced country music and bought a pickup truck.

            (No offense intended, of course, by the term Redneck...although I'm not aware of any sports teams with that name.)


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      • Get Racism Out of Sports: Washington Redskins (Bienvenido Macario, USA 07/02/14 5:00 PM)
        I found this item, "Get Racism out of Sports," from a Native American website.


        A white man and an elderly Native man became pretty good friends, so the white guy decided to ask him: "What do you think about Indian mascots?" The Native elder responded, "Here's what you've got to understand. When you look at black people, you see ghosts of all the slavery and the rapes and the hangings and the chains.

        "When you look at Jews, you see ghosts of all those bodies piled up in death camps. And those ghosts keep you trying to do the right thing. But when you look at us you don't see the ghosts of the little babies with their heads smashed in by rifle butts at the Big Hole, or the old folks dying by the side of the trail on the way to Oklahoma while their families cried and tried to make them comfortable, or the dead mothers at Wounded Knee or the little kids at Sand Creek who were shot for target practice. You don't see any ghosts at all.

        "Instead you see casinos and drunks and junk cars and shacks. Well, we see those ghosts. And they make our hearts sad and they hurt our little children. And when we try to say something, you tell us, ‘Get over it. This is America. Look at the American dream.' But as long as you're calling us Redskins and doing tomahawk chops, we can't look at the American dream, because those things remind us that we are not real human beings to you. And when people aren't humans, you can turn them into slaves or kill six million of them or shoot them down with Hotchkiss guns and throw them into mass graves at Wounded Knee. No, we're not looking at the American dream. And why should we? We still haven't woken up from the American nightmare."

        See also: The late Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman discusses "Racism in Sports":


        JE comments:  The present discussion is the same one that took place at Dartmouth in the early 1980s, when there was resistance to the College's decision to abandon the Indian mascot.  (Dartmouth teams are now the "Big Green"--not controversial.)  As for my own position, in 1983 I found some merit to the "courageous, noble tradition" and "here's a Native American who likes Indian mascots" arguments, but eventually I was won over by the fact that Native Americans exist who find tomahawk chops and "wah-hoo-wah" chants deeply offensive.

        Thirty-two years of debate haven't led to any consensus, or even new arguments.  I propose we put the topic to rest.

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        • Washington Redskins Controversy; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 07/05/14 5:14 AM)

          [JE:  Our friend Ric Mauricio sent his thoughts on the Washington Redskins controversy.  Although I asked for a moratorium on this discussion, we haven't heard from Ric for some time, and I found his perspective interesting--especially the comparison of Native Americans and Chinese immigrants.  So here's one more post on the Redskins.]

          I would like to thank Bienvenido Macario for his post of 3 July. It is a very well thought-out concept that we should all be aware of. Yes, the treatment of the Native American Indian has indeed been whitewashed, so that we in the present do not realize the abhorrent treatment they suffered at the hands of the European conquerors. Then again, many ghosts exist with other peoples forced to work for the "pioneers." The treatment of the Chinese laborers has never been fully explored by history.

          Now imagine if the San Francisco 49ers were called the San Francisco Chinamen, and instead of tomahawk motions, everyone wore hats with pigtails attached. In fact, I have found that many people still do not realize that the word "Chinaman" is as derogatory as the word "Chinks."  I cringe every time I hear those words in a movie.

          Oh, maybe the Cleveland Browns were actually named for the "little brown brothers" from the Philippines, and to recognize their scouting prowess, the sign for "first down" was created.

          I actually liked the name the Washington Senators. But perhaps our leaders from Congress would be offended if the tomahawks were substituted by everyone turning aside to each other, covering our mouths, and with the other hand, passing around bundles of monopoly money.

          The Boy Scouts of America do a very good job at recognizing the great culture of the American Indian. The boys start out at Tenderfoot and can achieve the highest rank of Eagle Scout. I belong to the Order of the Arrow and the ceremony, complete with Indian ceremonial garb, is very solemn, very sacred, as we recognize those whose leadership allows them to be included in the Brotherhood of the Order of the Arrow.

          I am all for changing the name of any team mascot that can be construed as demeaning to any group of people.

          JE comments:  A couple of months ago I read Oscar Lewis's classic The Big Four, on the robber barons (Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins, and Crocker) who founded the Central Pacific Railroad.  I don't know if the book "fully explores" the suffering of the Chinese laborers, but Lewis does describe their inhuman treatment and horrific working conditions.  Lewis's history, published in 1938, is surprisingly modern in its prose style and editorial slant.  I owe a debt to our colleague Paul Pitlick, who recommended the book back in March, and even loaned me his copy.  (Paul:  I'll return it the next time I see you--promise!)

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  • A Trip to Broken Bow, Oklahoma; Native American Mascots, Revisited (Randy Black, USA 08/04/14 12:13 AM)

    I just returned from a few days camping with my family in the Beavers Bend (Oklahoma) State Park near Broken Bow, a town of about 5,000. The beautiful part of southeast Oklahoma is about a 2.5 hour drive from the Dallas area.

    As we drove into Broken Bow, and were passing the high school, a large billboard promoted the many state championships of that town's football team, the Broken Bow Savages.

    They've had that name since 1924. Broken Bow is in the heart of the Choctaw country.

    I was reminded of our recent WAIS discussions of the alleged political incorrectness of various sports team's nicknames. Some among us are convinced that there should be a law against such names. I recall that I pointed out that many teams around the country prefer their names regardless of the views of a tiny, tiny segment of the population, Indian or otherwise.

    I met two of the players from the Savages who were holding down summer jobs in the park and who were proudly wearing T shirts proclaiming their allegiance to the school and team. Naturally, I asked them for opinions on the dust up related to the NFL's Redskins. They had heard about the controversy but seemed frustrated that so few can yell so loud about so little when the nation faces larger challenges.

    My question on the Redskins controversy and Obama's quote was received with laughter and derision. "Those fools up east should get a life," offered one young man. The other was less polite stating words to the effect, "these are the same fools who have told us that our borders are safer than ever."

    Trivia: Other Oklahoma football teams with interesting names include the Chickasha Fighting Chicks, Elk City Elks, the Beaver Dusters, Paoli Pugs, the Fox Foxes, the Crooked Oak Ruf-Nex and my favorite: the Bray-Doyle Donkeys (they kick ass). Their team MVP is the "Ass of the Year" and the all-time Bray-Doyle greats are inducted into the "Ass Hall of Fame." Clearly, the Okies have not lost their sense of humor.

    Credit: http://www.thelostogle.com/2007/10/31/power-poll-best-oklahoma-high-school-nicknames/

    JE comments:  Fighting Chicks certainly sound fearsome!  The University of Delaware has the Fightin' Blue Hens, but they are known as a feisty type of gamecock.

    Have there been any new developments on the Washington Redskins controversy since our discussion in June?  This is the kind of story you miss when you're away from the United States--and events of graver significance have happened since then, particularly in Ukraine and Gaza.

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    • Another Mascot to Reckon With... (Michael Sullivan, USA 08/04/14 12:30 PM)
      My favorite politically incorrect nickname for a high school is in Yuma, Arizona. Their nickname is the Yuma Criminals. They are named after the Territorial Prison built there in 1876, which operated for 33 years. Today the prison is a state park. Most people have never heard of Yuma, but there is an excellent western movie called the "3:10 to Yuma."

      JE comments: Ah, but lawbreakers everywhere must find the mascot demeaning! How about wrestling with a criminal?  (Yuma's largest employer is the Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma.  I assume Michael Sullivan knows it well.)

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