The Silliness Surrounding Mascot Nicknames Continues

“California Bans Use of ‘Redskins’ as School Mascot or Team Name,” according to a recent headline in the Sacramento Bee. Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill implementing that prohibition statewide, apparently “without comment,” on Sunday, October 11.

According to the same newspaper story, the new law affects just four California high schools, located in Calaveras, Merced and Madera counties. The law allows those schools to “keep uniforms bearing the [supposedly offensive] name if they [were] purchased before 2017”, provided that “the school selects a new team name, mascot or nickname.”

Doesn’t California’s legislature and its governor have more important things to worry about, such as addressing chronically large public budget deficits and municipal bankruptcies caused by excessive spending and colossal unfunded liabilities in governmental employees’ excessively generous pension and healthcare programs?

The “controversy” over the Redskins’ nickname has been simmering for the past several years, originating from a small, but vocal group of members of the Oneida tribe of Native Americans, expressing outrage at the moniker of Washington, DC’s NFL football team. Dan Snyder, the franchise’s principal owner, thus far has resisted demands to change the team’s name and its widely known logos, despite a decision not very long ago by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office not to enforce his private property rights.

The controversy now has moved West in a new law sponsored by California Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), proving that if a well-organized special-interest group can express its grievances effectively in the public sphere, those grievances will be endorsed by reelection-minded politicians. California’s action on an issue that affects the nicknames of just four state high schools foreshadows indulgence of grievances on almost any other perceived wrong, no matter how trivial those “injustices” may be in the larger scheme of things.

High-school civics classes teach that our governmental representatives serve the “public’s interest.” But, California’s banning of “Redskins” supports public choice reasoning that self-interested members of the legislative and executive branches of government in fact cater to special interests. If “Redskins” is offensive, so too, in the words of my Independent Institute colleague Randy Holcombe, is “Yankees.” No end is in sight to the limits of “trigger words” to which anyone, anywhere can take offense.

To his credit, Governor Brown vetoed a bill on the same day that would have prohibited naming public buildings and roads after prominent civilian and military leaders of the “lost cause” of the Confederate States of America.

History happened. Removing Confederate symbols from state flags, knocking down statues honoring fallen Confederate soldiers, or placing a bell recognizing Martin Luther King atop Georgia’s Stone Mountain cannot erase the past. Such tactics are similar in form and substance to the aims of of ISIS, which wants to return the globe to the time of Mohammed, roughly the year 700 AD.

Unless America’s citizenry is willing to empower an Orwellian Ministry of Truth so as to expunge all uncomfortable truths, it is high time for government to stop trying to put everyone’s mind at ease.

William F. Shughart II is a Distinguished Research Advisor and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University, past President of the Public Choice Society as well as the Southern Economic Association, and editor of the Independent book, Taxing Choice.
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