The Redskins name and my Sammamish Totems

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The Seattle Times newspaper announced today that it would join the ever-growing list of publications that will ban use of the name Redskins in future paper and online articles. The news comes one day after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled the name Redskins can no longer enjoy trademark protection because “€œbased on the evidence properly before us … these (trademark) registrations must be canceled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.”.

In the Times article it is pointed out that my high school, Sammamish High School in Bellevue, Washington, is one of many schools and organizations that has a name/mascot derived from Native American culture. Sammamish is “The Totems”. And the article points out that in addition to banning the racial slur Redskins from popular culture, that other sports teams and or schools are being encouraged to ban ALL nicknames derived from Native American culture.  This would include Chiefs, Warriors, Braves, Indians and on and on.


I’ll admit, somewhat sheepishly, that I honestly never thought of my high school’s nickname as being Native American. Clearly it is. I just never thought about it. Even though the subject of removing the name Redskins and other less offensive Native American nicknames has been in the news for years, I never made the connection. Interestingly (for me) the Time’s article also points out one of the lone remaining school sports names in Washington that carry’s with it some racial over tones toward Native Americans (or any other ethnic group, I guess) is my Dad’s high school alma mater The Bellingham High School Red Raiders. While keeping the nickname the Bellingham School District years ago removed any logo or symbolism associated with Native Americans from its High School, choosing instead on displaying a Hawk in depicting Red Raiders.

So my questions are these: 

1. Should the NFL’s Washington football team change its name from Redskins?

2. Should ALL nicknames with Native American connotations be banned/removed?

3. Am I alone in not giving any thought toward my own school’s nickname…along these lines?

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office admits in its report that only 30% of Native Americans surveyed find the term Redskins offensive. And survey’s of the team’s fans throughout the D.C. area strongly approve of owner Daniel Snyder’s stance to “NEVER change the name”.

My position is not unlike my thoughts about my own Totem’s nickname from my high school days. I’m rather indifferent. I see how the term Redskins can be offensive (who can’t?). But I also feel…INTENT has to play a big part in how a word is used. Nobody in their right mind believes Snyder or anyone associated with the Washington Redskins intends to offend anyone. It’s as if simply writing or saying the “n-word” is offensive; which it is…to a lot of people. I respect that. But I’m going to write it here, now. Nigger. Am I a racist? In the context of how I am using it I would openly and strongly call you an idiot for accusing me of being so. And my African-American wife, children, and friends would defend me; I’m sure. Still the word is offensive because of how it has historically been used, and the frequency with which its been used. The same can be said of the word Redskins. Though nobody with any scruples would use the word in any other way but as a reference to the football team. And such has been the case for decades. You can’t say that about the N-word.

Nonetheless, the tide to remove the name Redskins from the NFL football team is certainly unmistakable; and I predict it will be done in the next 2-3 years. Chalk up another one for political correctness. Still, it’s not something I don’t understand or would strongly argue.

However, to the politically correct wimps who would remove all nicknames, like my Totems, from schools and sports teams I would say, GROW UP. As I already pointed out, INTENT, must be taken into consideration when choosing to be offended otherwise you can find offense in way too many things in this world. The nursery level idiom “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, comes to mind. I could point out all the other nicknames of some racial derivation…like a lot of people arguing this point do…but I won’t. Because it’s a waste of time.

If someone offends you and does so intentionally or unthinkingly, do something about it. Say something. But if their Intent is non-offensive keep that in mind. When I was young and going to school studying broadcasting I created an audio character with an English accent named “Bueno Mike”. It was a character I used for product commercials. And it was intended to be funny. Bueno Mike was supposed to be an English explorer in the vein of “Stanley and Livingston”. I decided Bueno Mike needed an assistant and innocently came up with a new character I called “Sambo”. This was in 1985. My then-girlfriend, and future wife, was incensed. I had no ill-intent. I was thinking of the restaurant named Sambo’s, and the young Indian character who spun a tiger around a tree and turned him into butter. But my girlfriend couldn’t believe I would use a name so offensive. I admitted I didn’t know that it was offensive to African-Americans. But after she calmed down and explained it to me I didn’t hesitate to ditch the plan and not use the derogatory name. But I have to admit my girlfriends strong first reaction put me on the defensive and I was a little upset. Only through a calmer approach was my mind changed.

What do you think? I’m really interested in hearing from my fellow Sammamish Alums to my 3 earlier questions.

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NFL Can Solve Concussion Problem But Isn’t

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

Now that the NFL concussion problem has gotten the attention of PBS’ Frontline tv news documentary program newsletterplease

its time for this multi-billion-dollar per year business to do the simple and necessary steps required to reduce dangerous head injuries to its players. They need to do so now before their neglect on this subject becomes a financial and legal liability that will eventually lead to the elimination of the game we love.

In “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” Frontline showed that the biggest sports league in the world has knowingly sent too many players into retirement with what appear to be permanent brain injuries.


As I wrote in a June 2012 blog “NFL Concussion Problem is Solvable” one of the steps the NFL could take right now, this year is to put padding on the outside of the hard-shell helmets their players wear. It’s been done before by at least two players in the 1990s.

Buffalo Bill Mark Kelso padded his helmet.

Buffalo Bill Mark Kelso padded his helmet.

Buffalo’s Mark Kelso was no bench-warming back-up player. He wore his padded helmet while forging a 7 year NFL career and playing in four Super Bowls.

Steve Wallace in his "Cone helmet"

Steve Wallace in his “Cone helmet”

San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Steve Wallace wore a foam cap. He was good enough to play in a Pro Bowl. Why don’t players protect themselves by wearing these easily manufactured foam caps on their hard-shell helmets? Because they can. Players can choose to do this on their own without the league stepping in. They don’t because too many of them think they make you look bad, or geeky, nerdy, or uncool. It’s such a sad statement in our society the clothing appearance is more important than the risk of life long medical disability.

The next question is why doesn’t the NFL require the foam padding on the outside of the helmets? It’s a mystery. Though you can guess it has something to do with style, appearance, aesthetics.

There is still more they can do. During the last off-season the NFL announced that it would require its players to start wearing padding in the football pants, in particular, over their knees. This is a huge step. Just think of how many times we’ve seen a player knocked senseless while blocking or tackling and inadvertently being kicked in the head by another players knee. It happens all the time. Common sense would presume that a pad on the knee and a thin pad on the players helmet would do a lot less neurological damage than a hard knee smashing into a head covered by a hard-shell helmet. The problem is the NFL delayed this change, the mandatory padding, until 2014. It’s hard to imagine why; especially when at the time of the announced change more than 2000 thousand former players had joined in a class action lawsuit against the NFL claiming damages from head trauma during their playing years continued to plague them into retirement.  The lawsuit was settled in August 2013 for $765-million and a guarantee of lifetime medical insurance coverage.

NFL Referees have increasingly thrown flags for helmet hits. The league has also increased the frequency and amount of fines it assesses players every week for those same helmet hits. And I applaud such action.

I am not among the foolish whiners who claim their taking away what we love best about this vicious game, the big hard hits. For the past 20-30 years players have not tackled properly. They fly at the ball carriers, usually with their head down, and essentially “push” them as hard as they can hoping the guy with the ball falls down. (I know I’m simplifying…bear with me) But watch the old, I mean 1960s-old NFL Films highlight reels of Tommy Nobis, Dick Butkis, Chuck Bednarick, Ray Nitschke, Deacon Jones. These Hall of Famers and all others at that time didn’t lower their heads and run into the ball carrier. They kept their heads up to see. They collided with the runner and they wrapped their arms around, and lifted and drove backwards with their legs. This is how I was taught how to tackle at Bellevue, Washington’s Olde Jr High, and then Sammamish High School in 1976-1982. In watching those old highlight films I challenge you to tell me they didn’t hit and tackle hard, and that those hits were exciting. They were savage and brutal. They were great. A perfectly executed hit-wrap-lift-and drive tackle is still more exciting to me then some head collision.

Teaching how to tackle properly again and added padding on the outside of helmets and over the players knees can only help. And it better. Because in our litigious society increasing evidence of repeated concussion trauma and its life time effects on the players will only lead to the inevitable legislative control and eventual loss of the great game of football.

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My High School Friends.

My Senior Portrait

What is it about your high school friends that creates such a bond? These people who occupy your life, in most cases for a mere 3-4 years, remain in your hearts, your memories, sometimes on your minds and in your dreams for a lifetime. Why is that? The permanency of your high school friends and acquaintances used to be reinforced only every ten years as reunions were the traditional every-decade opportunity to see everyone from bygone days and catch up on things. It was at the reunions that big smiles and big hugs occurred and ultimately led to…..nothing. For despite our fondness of our old classmates whatever it was that sent us in various directions after that final toss of the cap, whatever it is that keeps us from enjoying each others company outside of the every-ten-year reunion most people don’t hang with their old chums even when given the opportunity to do so at reunion time.

My school class 30 year reunion is upcoming this Summer. And of course some very good and dedicated people from my youth have organized and planned events for that time. Good for them. And thank you to each and every one of them. I’m looking forward to it, even though unlike reunions of ten and twenty years I’m not nearly as separated from my old pals.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Facebook has changed everything in this area. Over 800-million people worldwide have a Facebook account and statistics indicate that half of them log on every day. In the United States many, if not most, of these social media darlings made up their “Friends” almost entirely of old school friends. Now our society has gone from touching base with old high school chums every ten years to every ten hours. Remarkable!

In my case, I left

Sammamish High logo

Sammamish High School in Bellevue, WA upon graduation in 1982 and never looked back. I had over 500 kids in my graduating class. By July of that same year the number from those 500 people who I saw regularly was reduced to a small handful. After going away to college that September that number became zero. Over the next 5 years my association with high school classmates included 3-4 people, and only occasionally. My wedding 5 years after graduation brought 5-10 of them together. The succeeding 10 years I occasionally saw the Best Man from my wedding, who was also a high school classmate and football teammate. He then left my life for the past 14 years; until re-emerging only a couple months ago (and not on Facebook).

From my perspective my disappearance from sight from all my high school classmates is not rare. In fact its pretty common. And also not rare, from what I have seen and read, my old school classmates remain dear in my heart and mind and always have. Distance and time has not dimmed my strong feelings for people who only occupied parts of three years of my life.

In the thirty years since that time I’ve found myself employed with at least 2-3 jobs where I worked closely with people for longer stretches than the 3 years high school required. In one case I worked 13 years at an employer with a base of staff that was pretty constant. In each instance of employment I worked with people for longer hours each day than was required in high school, in a field we all shared as a common interest, if not passion. We enjoyed the occasional marriage, and birth of children, and family deaths. Many social gatherings and even holidays have been shared with co-workers. Far more than what I experienced in and around high school. And yet in most cases the people who occupy a higher level of fondness and memory in my mind are the folks who shared three years with me thirty years ago, and then left my life.

It fascinates me.

I know not everyone’s experience is like my own. For instance, my wife hasn’t seen or associated with any of her high school friends in the 28 years I’ve known her. And she is a very loving woman, and loved by ALL who come in contact with her. She went to 3 different high schools in four years, for reasons that in the case of each move seemed logical, but clearly left her much more detached from the people with whom she graduated. Other’s may share her perspective.

English: Downtown Bellevue, WA

In the 3 years since connecting on Facebook with approximately 200 of my high school classmates I’ve learned a lot about some of these people who I didn’t know when we were all younger. In some cases I’ve been left to wonder if I went through high school in some debilitating fog. Oddly, most of the closest friends I had in high school are either not on Facebook or not active on it. So most of those I communicate with were either unknown to me entirely, or were mere acquaintances. And yet that fondness exists. Not surprisingly those who I care most about (generally speaking) from this collection of childhood friends are the few who shared my life before high school. I went to one elementary school, one Junior High, and one high school. I’ve connected on Facebook with a handful of others who can say the same thing.

Bellevue, Washington

Bellevue, Washington (Photo credit: brewbooks)

Perhaps the strong feelings and memories many people feel toward their associates of youth is merely nostalgia like we feel toward a good old movie or song. But I think it’s more than that. However friendly any of my school mates are now or then we’re forever joined as brothers and sisters in a common community, with a common history, and in many cases common experiences, common stories, places.

Headquarters of T-Mobile in the Factoria distr...


Interstate 405 approaching downtown Bellevue, ...

Bellevue, WA

Because I write and I often aim to be provocative I know some of my old friends are surprised at the man I have become; just as I am in many cases intrigued by learning what they’ve become. But however divergent our lives now are, however successful some, however troubled others, we came together during the formative years that saw us transition from children to young adults. We had no choice in originally being brought together. It is all our choice to have reunited. And isn’t it beautiful that so many with varied interests and passions have made that choice? Should God bless me with another 30-40-50 years of life I’m looking forward to them knowing I am stronger reconnected with those who helped form who I am when I was being shaped.

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