BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal patent court ruling called the Washington Redskins name — a moniker also used by some West Michigan schools — an insult to Native Americans. It’s the latest development in the ongoing discussion about using similar terms as sports team mascots.
The U.S. Patent Office Wednesday canceled the Redskins’ six trademarks, saying they are offensive to Native Americans. If the ruling holds up, it could cost the team’s owner millions of dollars by allowing others to create merchandise. The ruling has broader implications in the debate about whether sports teams should use the Redskins — or other Native American-related terms — as a mascot.
Three high schools in West Michigan call themselves the Redskins: Belding, Saranac and Paw Paw.
Wes Cummings was the athletic director for Belding for 13 years. Prior to that, he was the athletic director for four years for the White Cloud Indians.
“At that time, I had to read a big thick pamphlet about the issue,” said Cummings of his time as AD in White Cloud. “I wasn’t real excited about having to [read] that. I didn’t think it made a lot of sense that we couldn’t be the Indians, but I read through that and there were some points in there that you couldn’t argue with.”
One of those points, Cummings told 24 Hour News 8, is how the mascot is treated by opponents.
“It’s not how our school views it as much how the other school views and what they do with that,” said Cummings. “It’s kill the Indians, kill the Redskins, scalp the Redskins, scalp the Indians and that’s part of the problem that they were bringing up.”
Cummings said he can see both points of view — his wife is 100% Chippewa and all of his five kids played for the Belding Redskins.
“It’s been mixed a little bit in our family,” said Cummings. “For the most part, I would say that [my family] like being the Indians at White Cloud. They like being the Redskins at Belding. They walked into my office and I’ve got Indian pictures and Indian little statues and things that are Indian in the office, they like that. It’s a source of pride for them and for the most part they want to be the Redskins.”
But he said he understands the issue can be a touchy one.
“When you’re at the school and you’re working for the school and you’re making decisions, you have to be sensitive to both sides,” said Cummings. “It’s tough. I even look at it myself and one moment I think Redskins is fine, and the next moment I’m thinking maybe not, so I don’t always agree with myself. It’s not always an easy issue.”
“I think right now, from what I’m hearing, [the schools are] kind of in a wait-and-see-mode. They kind of want to see where all this is going to go,” said Cummings. “I know it’s been a while, but they kind of want to see what’s going to happen. So far, no schools have been forced to change, but that may be coming, we don’t know. And right now they’re just taking a kind of non-committal approach, I think.”
24 Hour News 8 contacted all three districts for comment Wednesday afternoon, but was told the superintendents were out of the office.