There's good news from Sanford: my hometown is experiencing a surfeit of leadership, and it's manifesting itself in a couple of areas. For the first time in recent memory the Sanford football team doesn't stink. Coming into this week's home game against Biddeford, Sanford is 4-1. Obviously, some excellent gridiron leadership is happening, and that deserves praise.
Allan Young, Sanford High's principal, is also leading on the issues surrounding Sanford's mascot, the Redskin. I have written about my alma mater's mascot, and that I think it's a racist slur is no secret. In fact, with this column I launched a Facebook group dedicated to pressuring Sanford into a change. (See "Last of the Redskins," November 28, 2008, and "Redskin Redux," January 23.) At last check, "Sanford Needs A New Mascot" has almost 170 members, most of them alumni, although there are some current students and one SHS history teacher. Principal Young, as ardent an SHS Redskin supporter as exists, said that the school plans several student meetings to discuss the mascot. For this, Young deserves praise. He is a good man. That Young fundamentally disagrees about the nature of the term doesn't mean he is racist; it means that he lacks empathy for those the word defames. (I suspect this is also true for most Sanfordians who support the term.)
However, despite these welcome steps, Young still seems unclear on a few points. In the e-mail he sent to me regarding the school's mascot plans, he wrote, "In the final analysis, should there need to be a change of course with our mascot . . . the citizens of Sanford would need to 'speak to the issue' in one way or another." This implies that the alumni, current students, and the member of his faculty that are in our group have no standing. When is the last time you heard a school's leader imply that alumni are outside their school's community? But let's put that suggestion aside and focus on the positive.
The kids will talk about it. Young didn't say when, and he didn't say whom they would discuss it with, but talking is a good starting point. Of course, can this be left to kids educated by a school, by a system, that has done nothing but reassure them that being called a Redskin is an honor, that defining people by the color of their skin is actually a good, if only in this one narrow instance? My first inclination was, "Hell, no," which was reinforced by some e-mails I received from dissenting SHS students. I won't quote or name the kids, but a few of the e-mails sounded very racist. There was a lot of talk about "the red man" and "the white man", and how the word "redskin" is a compliment; of how Redskins were tough and sober (sober?). Reading them left me feeling that the writers had no idea how they sounded. To me, that denotes a lack of empathy in their education, which, in turn, made me think that discussing this complicated question among similarly educated teenagers could be futile.