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State

EYE ON ILLINOIS: West makes it clear: Mascot changes are coming

Maurice West hasn’t forgotten.

West, a Rockford Democrat in his first term in the state House, tweeted Tuesday afternoon a reminder of House Bill 4783, the legislation he introduced in February concerning Illinois schools with mascots linked to Native American imagery.

Noting the COVID-19 shutdown sidelined work on the bill, West updated constituents on his position, writing, “Now I’m working on an amendment to this bill to give voice to the Native American community and to teach our students the TRUE history and culture of Native Americans. More details to come.”

HB4783 sets conditions for schools to use a mascot linked to native people. Among the terms are getting express written consent from a tribe — within 500 miles — subject to renewal twice a decade. Districts would have to conduct school-wide programs on native culture twice each year and offer a class focusing on Native American societal contributions. Those programs would have to be documented in a report filed annually with the Illinois State Board of Education.

This change would affect dozens of middle and high schools using names like Braves, Chiefs, Warriors and so on. But in his Tuesday tweet, West honed his focus:

“FYI, if your name is the Reds**ns, prepare for legislative language that calls for the change of your name.”

I wrote about West’s bill four weeks ago as part of the conversation that picked up when actor Nick Offerman boosted an online petition concerning the Indians mascot at his alma mater, Minooka High School. The short time since witnessed rapid change across the sports landscape, including the incident that likely precipitated West’s tweet: Monday’s formal announcement the NFL team in Washington, D.C., is “retiring” the mascot considered such a slur West used asterisks to avoid using the word.

The five schools on notice are Momence, Morris, Nokomis, Sullivan and Shawnee in Wolf Lake. As noted last month, the issue here isn’t if, but when — either the affected districts will change now proactively, or they will be forced into it via public pressure or through direct legislative action.

With respect to the NFL, Washington owner Dan Snyder insisted he’d never change the team name and only buckled under pressure once team partners and major sponsors such as FedEx and Nike forced the issue. Even the team’s letter announcing the retirement twice listed sponsors before fans. (It also used the offensive name seven times along with the logo — Snyder clearly isn’t embracing the change.)

West’s bill will get consideration in Springfield. It may be subject to tweaks and amendments, but the larger message is clear: the most offensive names are leaving. Other schools will have to follow rules or change. In 2020, it’s the least we can do.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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