Ertl: Red Raiders nickname won't change
New state law allows anyone to challenge team names, logos, mascots as offensive
Though Wauwatosa East High School's Red Raiders nickname was once associated with a controversial American Indian mascot and logo, district officials said the school's identity no longer has ties to that culture and therefore won't be affected by state legislation passed last week.
Over the past two decades, Tosa East has changed its mascot from an Indian to a pirate, and its logo from a caricature of an American Indian to a spear and arrowhead to its current incarnation: a red-and-white shield-shaped crest with the letters "T" and "E" inside it.
The school's nickname hasn't changed, but it no longer references American Indian culture, Superintendent Phil Ertl said.
"The direction of the (School) Board and the understanding of the community is that the color relates to … just red," Ertl said, "and our mascot is a pirate. I think we've done everything we can to eliminate anything that could be considered offensive."
Only one complaint needed
The legislation, which Gov. Jim Doyle has said he plans to sign, says any district resident can file a complaint with the state if they find a school's nickname, logo or mascot offensive. If the defending district can't prove in a hearing that its symbols do not promote discrimination, harassment or stereotyping, it has one year to change the symbol or face a fine of up to $1,000 per day.
That process will be handled by the state Department of Public Instruction, which will need to develop an administrative process to handle the hearings, said DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper. But it's not clear when that process will be in place, he said. For now, emergency rules will be set up to handle any early complaints.
Ertl said there have been no complaints so far, and the district has no plans to change the nickname.
"I'm hopeful that we are able to continue down the path that we have," he said of Tosa East's current identity.
Linda Vitrano, Tosa East athletic director, said the district already has spent money to make the East logo more racially sensitive.
"We have made every effort to eliminate anything offensive to the Native American community from our logo and our mascot," Vitrano said, "and we did it years before state law mandated it.
"Anything that had the old (spear and arrowhead) logo … we got rid of (including) all our uniforms, and that was expensive."
Consensus hard to find
State lawmakers were divided on the legislation. The Senate narrowly passed the bill on a 17-16 vote April 13. Last week, the Assembly approved it 53-45.
Among those who voted against it was state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), who objected to the financial burden the bill places on districts ordered to change. If a name or mascot is found to be discriminatory, the offending symbols would need to be removed from athletic uniforms and helmets, business cards, scoreboards and more.
"The most important thing schools should be doing is educating children, and that's where we should be devoting all of our energy," Lazich said. "This is not in the best interest of education. It is not in the best interest of students."
Lazich added that she thinks school nicknames and mascots that reference American Indians are an honor to the people, and ending the practice will take away recognition from them.
Wauwatosa School District students by race/ethnicity
|*student populations listed as percentages|
Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
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