Skin color is no longer an official topic at Snell Middle School in southwestern New Mexico.
Board members of Cobre Consolidated School District have chosen Miners as Snell’s new mascot. It replaces Redskins, which had a strange 40-year run at Snell.
Miners is Snell’s third mascot since 1981. Its teams were called Eagles before Snell switched to Redskins.
Snell took the Redskins name in an era when it was already unpopular to use mascots defined by pigmentation or race.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, part Northern Cheyenne Indian, was elected to Congress from Colorado in 1986 as a vocal opponent of the Washington Redskins team name.
“People in Washington would never tolerate a team being called Blackskins,” Campbell told me at the time. “We shouldn’t tolerate Redskins, either.”
Campbell’s campaign against Redskins and other mascots he found offensive wasn’t limited to professional sports teams.
He asked Arvada High School in suburban Denver to stop using Redskins as a mascot and team name. The school board complied soon after.
No mascot bothered Campbell more than the Lamar High School Savages. Lamar, on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, displays an Indian chief in headdress as its Savage mascot.
Lamar is less than an hour away from the site of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. U.S. soldiers attacked Arapaho dwellings, killing 230 Native Americans, most of them women and children.
Campbell went on to serve two terms in the U.S. Senate, first as a Democrat and then as a Republican. Lamar, though, has rebuffed him and every other politician who called on the school district to stop using Savages to depict Native Americans.
Debate was less charged at Snell Middle School in Bayard, a town of about 1,000 people. The turning point came in July, when the principal owner of the Washington Redskins reversed himself and announced his team’s name would be changed.
The Washington team owners had long ignored Campbell and other politicians who objected to the name Redskins. But they bent to pressure from corporate sponsors, including FedEx.
About a month after the NFL team announced it would change its mascot, the Cobre school board voted 3-1 to eliminate the Redskins team name at Snell Middle School.
Some people suggested reviving Eagles as the team name from the 1970s. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales favored Miners as a tribute to the region’s history.
Morales is a fan of the 1954 movie Salt of the Earth, inspired by a 15-month strike at a zinc mine in Grant County.
“It is a reflection of the resiliency not only of the miners but also the power of women keeping the labor movement alive while men were placed in jail for protesting,” Morales told me Friday.
Given that history, he said, Miners is a fitting name for the kids at Snell Middle School to wear on team jerseys.
School board members rejected suggestions to also change the team name of Indians at Cobre High School.
Morales formerly was the baseball coach at Cobre. The campus stadium is even named for him, and he’s still loyal to the Cobre fan base.
A Democrat, Morales favored retaining the Indians name. But he was among those who called on the Cobre school board to ban Chief Wahoo, a grinning caricature introduced to baseball fans in 1947 by a major-league team, the Cleveland Indians.
Ownership in Cleveland retired Chief Wahoo in 2018. Cobre board members decided to do the same the night they eliminated Redskins as Snell’s mascot.
As for keeping Indians as the Cobre High team name, Morales said it made sense based on a historical connection to the region. Apaches lived near present-day Silver City.
He said Snell’s change to Miners is an even better fit.
“Growing up hearing the stories of my mom and grandfather of the strikes and struggles of miners really helped shape the lenses I viewed legislation from as a state senator,” Morales said.
The Washington Football Team is still without a mascot. Not so for Snell Middle School.
With the change to Miners, Snell’s staff has plenty to do. It must scrub “Redskins” from every sign, team uniform and piece of stationery.