- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

A Little League group in Montgomery County yesterday agreed to strip the names "Braves" and "Indians" from its baseball teams after a Maryland agency began organizing a boycott of businesses that sponsor the league.
The Germantown Athletic League will drop the names this fall and consider arguments that such words, logos and mascots are offensive to American Indians before deciding whether to abandon them permanently, a league official said.
"We are sympathetic," league Vice President Mike Morris said in an interview. "We're about kids playing baseball. We don't want to offend anybody."
But Mr. Morris criticized the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs — a quasi-independent agency that is part of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development — for tactics he said are geared toward getting publicity, rather than results.
The Indian commission voted Monday to initiate a boycott of Giant Food and 63 other sponsors of the Germantown Athletic League because seven teams in its five divisions are called "Braves" or "Indians."
"Our strategy has been, we're going to fight this on air, land or sea," said commission member Richard Regan, a Lumbee Cheraw Indian and Montgomery County resident who was the driving force behind the boycott threat. "The common thing that all these [sports] organizations have is they're using facilities that are funded by taxpayers."
Across Maryland, the gubernatorially appointed commission has argued for eliminating Indian-inspired nicknames for school sports teams. The panel identified 27 schools in 13 counties that use names such as "Indians," "Braves," "Chiefs" and even "Warriors." (Webster's notes a Middle English origin for the word "warrior" but no Indian connotation.)
Critics of such campaigns to rename amateur and pro teams — whether Germantown's Braves or the Washington Redskins — say bigoted attitudes, not the names, are offensive and must be changed. Nicknames like "Braves" honor Indians, they argue.
Mr. Morris said his Little League would have been open to talking about changing team names. But, he said, the league didn't hear about the issue until some of its sponsors reported being approached by the Indian commission about a boycott.
Sponsors said they would support whatever the league's 3,000 voting members decide to do, Mr. Morris said.
"The tactics really turned off a lot of people," Mr. Morris said. "Instead of finding a sympathetic ear, as a group it was hard [for the league] to get past the attack."
The Commission on Indian Affairs was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1974 to coordinate petitions from Indian groups that seek state recognition as formal tribes, as well as requests for the transfer of human remains and artifacts to such groups. The panel also is authorized to promote education and awareness of Indian culture.
Mr. Regan, 43, an equal-opportunity manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was appointed this year by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.
Indian-inspired names for sports teams and accompanying mascots, chants and war whoops represent "stealth racism," Mr. Regan said in an interview.
Approaching sponsors and organizing boycotts often is the most effective way to bring change, he said.
"A lot of people really perceive this [approach] as an attack on America and apple pie," Mr. Regan said, noting that when he tries to explain that such names and images teach intolerance and bigotry, he often hears the reply, "Oh, you're attacking baseball."
Nationwide, about 3,100 "offensive" representations of American Indians are used by schools from elementary grades through college, he said, and another 4,000 more are used by nonprofit sports organizations such as the Germantown Athletic League.
About 1,500 "offensive" names have been changed across the country under pressure from Indian-advocacy groups, Mr. Regan said. In recent years, the St. John's University "Redmen" became the "Red Storm" and Stanford University dropped "Indians" in favor of "Cardinal."
The commissioners were "within their rights" to impose a boycott that the state does not endorse, said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
"There is a line in the [state] code that created them that gives them the authority to support causes that further the interests of Native Americans," Mr. McDonough said yesterday, when asked about the commission's statutory authority.
Mr. McDonough said the state was "not at all" obligated to agree. "What the governor can say is, 'We don't support this.'"
Calls last evening to the governor's press office for comment were not returned.
Maryland's Indian population is 15,423, or 0.3 percent, according to 2000 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. No federally recognized tribes reside in the state.
In February, the commission adopted a resolution supporting elimination of Indian-inspired names for teams affiliated with public schools because such names are "offensive, disrespectful, demeaning, and make a mockery of Indian people."
Rebuffed when it sought related executive action from Mr. Glendening, the commission asked the Maryland Board of Education to endorse such a ban and argued that the nicknames undercut minority achievement. Two weeks ago, in a 10-2 vote, the school board decided to "encourage" local schools to drop Indian-inspired names for sports teams.
One target is Poolesvile High School, also in Montgomery County, where the commission unsuccessfully argued earlier this year for abandoning the nickname "Indians." After several community meetings, parents and students voted 493-321 in May to retain the name.
However, the Montgomery County Board of Education decided to examine the policy of allowing Indian nicknames at its Aug. 28 meeting.
Five seats on the nine-member commission must be filled by American Indians. Mr. Regan and the six other members are of Indian descent. The panel, which meets once a month, has two vacant seats.
Commission members are volunteers but are reimbursed for travel and other expenses. The panel's annual budget is $50,000.

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