OPINION: Meriden’s Wilcox Tech mulls name change

A year ago, I expressed admiration for Terry Francona, the manager of the Cleveland baseball team and former manager of the Red Sox. He’d gained my admiration not for wins and World Series victories (he’d had two with the Sox) but for something he said that showed he was willing to reconsider things and be upfront about it.

People change their minds, but admitting it can be a different story. In politics, a game of pointing fingers, it’s a source of ridicule; opponents look for it as you would the heel of Achilles or Superman’s kryptonite. Political types tend to label it flip-flopping, but a willingness to modify one’s viewpoint is a strength, not a weakness.

Back to Francona:

The Cleveland baseball team had been considering changing its name, following a move that sent into exile the logo known as Chief Wahoo, which would adorn the team’s baseball caps and jerseys and which, it became clear over the years, was not a good image, no matter how well-meaning or traditional. It was offensive, simple as that.

Jettisoning Chief Wahoo happened just a couple of years ago, but he’d long been a provoker of unease. When then-President Bill Clinton threw out the first pitch for the first game at Cleveland’s new Jacobs Field in 1994, Chief Wahoo was not in play. Instead it was the big “C” that stood for Cleveland.

Now the Cleveland baseball team is no longer going to be the Indians. When the organization came out to state it would consider changing the name, Francona said he’d already been thinking about it.

“I know in the past, when I’ve been asked about, whether it’s our name or the Chief Wahoo, I think I would usually answer and say, ‘I know that we’re never trying to be disrespectful,’” he said a year ago. “And I still feel that way.”

But, and here’s the admirable part:

“But I don’t think that’s a good enough answer today. I think it’s time to move forward.”

You may have guessed I’m ever so slowly getting around to talking about Wilcox Technical High School, in Meriden, which also has Indians as the name of its teams. As a Record-Journal article recently noted, Wilcox in 2013 replaced the former team logo depicting an Indian in a headdress with one that had feathers around “WT.” Even so seemingly modest a switch prompted an online petition urging a return to the former logo.

So, these things don’t change easily. They might have, had the state’s technical schools been financially threatened by keeping such names. State legislation now withholds aid from tribal gaming revenues from municipalities that use Native American names or images. CT Tech Superintendent Jeffrey Wihbey told the R-J: “... if we would be in jeopardy of losing any funds, we would pretty immediately move toward changing the mascots … We’re not going to forfeit any money for the kids.”

They may change it anyway. Discussions that were tabled by the coronavirus pandemic are returning. “Maybe it’s time to be proactive,” said Wihbey.

The plan is to contact leaders from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, and follow with discussions involving school staff, students and alumni.

Cleveland and Wilcox Tech aren’t the only ones reconsidering names. A statement from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation expressed opposition to the use of Native American names and imagery unless, basically, consent is involved.

It’s worth repeating at least part of the statement, which expressed objection “to any and all use of redface or any songs, chants, costumes, body gestures (e.g. ‘tomahawk chop’), or any other actions intended to imitate Native Americans or Native American cultures.”

The statement also called for “an end to the wide-ranging appropriation of Native American-related imagery, culture and names in all manner of commercial settings that continue to promote stereotypes, misrepresent Native culture and create lasting harm for tribal nations and their citizens.”

The situation in Meriden will likely continue to elicit strong opinion.

Once again, Francona has a point of view worth keeping in mind, as quoted at MLB.com.

“What’s important for people to understand is what we’re really proud of is the first name of our team, which is ‘Cleveland,’” he said in December.

Can you apply that to Wilcox Tech?

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.

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