Name Ad­dressed

Lane Tech voted to get rid of ‘In­di­ans’ nick­name, mas­cot; it was time for a change

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY STEVE GREEN­BERG | | @slgreen­berg sgreen­berg@sun­times.com

Af­ter Alvin El­ton died of the coro­n­avirus in March at 56, his widow, Gretchen Meyer, found a mea­sure of com­fort from for­mer high school class­mates on Face­book. As she self-quar­an­tined — alone — in her North­west Side home, she was buoyed by their friendly, car­ing com­ments, prayers and wishes.

“Ev­ery­one was so great,” she re­calls. But as Lane Tech Col­lege Prep found it­self em­broiled in a mas­cot con­tro­versy in re­cent weeks, Meyer’s ex­pe­ri­ence on the so­cial plat­form “did a com­plete 180.” She felt at­tacked. Af­ter shar­ing the opin­ions El­ton — a Lakota Sioux, both par­ents from tribes in South Dakota — had held firmly, she read in dis­may as those feel­ings were be­lit­tled.

“All the com­pas­sion was gone,” she says. Af­ter more than 100 years, Lane — my school, too — is do­ing away with its “In­di­ans” name, part of a wave of op­po­si­tion to Na­tive Amer­i­can lo­gos and mas­cots that in­cludes high schools, col­leges and the NFL team in our na­tion’s cap­i­tal. El­ton, Meyer says, would’ve been thrilled by the news.

Some of my own 1980s class­mates, on the other hand, are hav­ing a hard time han­dling it.

“I will no longer rep­re­sent Lane Tech!” one of my foot­ball team­mates wrote.

“The new mas­cot should be a snowflake,” opined an­other. “Stupid PC cul­ture is turn­ing this coun­try into a na­tion of . . . . ”

Use your imag­i­na­tion to fill in the blank. Suf­fice it to say, class (think: kind­ness and grace, not math and sci­ence) too rarely is in ses­sion.

Na­tive Amer­i­can mas­cots are a hot-but­ton is­sue, but what isn’t in 2020? Put such a topic on so­cial me­dia where thou­sands of alumni — span­ning gen­er­a­tions — can see it, and the re­sult­ing cesspool of in­hu­man­ity will drown out most opin­ions. We re­duce one an­other to “snowflakes” and “sheep,” to “boomers” and “racists.”

It’s more com­pli­cated than that, of course. The Amer­i­can In­dian Cen­ter of Chicago “firmly stands against” such use of racial im­agery. The Na­tional Congress of Amer­i­can In­di­ans says mas­cots such as Lane’s be­long to an era when “racism and big­otry were ac­cepted by the dom­i­nant cul­ture” and have “very real con­se­quences” for Na­tive peo­ple. But some Na­tive Amer­i­can in­di­vid­u­als and groups are more ac­cept­ing — even sup­port­ive — of a mas­cot like Lane’s.

In my view, the is­sue is pretty straight­for­ward: If some are of­fended and some aren’t, the op­er­a­tive phrase is “some are.” I vote for a team name that won’t of­fend any­body on racial or eth­nic grounds. If that means I have to buy some Lane Snowflakes gear, so be it.

“My chief ’s head on my old sweater shows honor and in­tegrity,” wrote one alum, who went on — the irony surely lost on him — to call young alumni a bunch of “cry­ba­bies.” That’s not the way to do it, folks. An African Amer­i­can for­mer class­mate of mine was ini­tially against the change, but then she re­al­ized the mas­cot could be to Na­tive Amer­i­cans some­thing akin to what the Con­fed­er­ate flag is to her.

“It was a done deal,” she wrote. “If there is any in­sult, it’s enough for me to un­der­stand the pain that it causes.”

See, that’s how you do it.

Hyun Woo Lee was Lane’s stu­dent mas­cot dur­ing the 1985-86 school year. A young man with cere­bral palsy who’d trans­ferred in as a sopho­more, he donned a head­dress, danced proudly on the field dur­ing foot­ball games and “got to hang around pretty cheer­lead­ers” at par­ties af­ter them. The ex­pe­ri­ence made him feel like he was leav­ing the “pro­tec­tive bub­ble” in which he’d ex­isted.

“Due to Lane Tech be­ing a school of ex­cel­lence and cham­pi­ons, the In­dian is a sym­bol of great­ness, strength and honor,” says Lee, 53.

Stu­art Eng, 53, was the stu­dent mas­cot as a se­nior in 1984-85 and “al­ways felt that I brought some dig­nity to the po­si­tion.”

“Our war­rior was sup­posed to stand for brav­ery, lead­er­ship and stead­fast­ness in the face of ad­ver­sity,” Eng says. “I be­lieved that we were pay­ing homage.”

Many years later, as a board mem­ber of the school’s alumni as­so­ci­a­tion — a mas­cot con­tro­versy now on the ta­ble — Eng reached out to Na­tive Amer­i­can groups in hopes of find­ing sup­port for Lane’s war­rior. He found the op­po­site. So what did he do? He got on what he fig­ured was the right side of his­tory.

“I am all for re­plac­ing the mas­cot,” he says, “and mov­ing for­ward with so­ci­ety.”

And that’s what progress looks like. ✶

COLIN BOYLE/SUN-TIMES

Af­ter more than 100 years, Lane Tech is do­ing away with its ‘‘In­di­ans’’ name.

PRO­VIDED

Stu­art Eng as the Lane Tech Col­lege Prep stu­dent mas­cot in 1984.

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