“Raider” is Not Racist Full Stop

“Raider” is Not Racist Full Stop

Cackie Martin, Guest Writer

There’s been a great deal of misinformation in Radnor surrounding the rebranding process and the role of the Mascot and Rebranding Committee. As a member of the committee, I was told early on not to discuss the content of the meetings, so I will endeavor to share information that’s already been shared with the public so as not to violate the rules of the committee. My perspective is one of a proud multigenerational Radnor student who is also American Indian. I hope to provide insight into some of the lies being shared and perpetuated throughout the district. As an optimist, I have to believe that if our School Board had been presented with the facts surrounding the mascot retirement Radnor students would still be represented by the Raiders. The Radnor High School student body would be voting on new imagery, instead of casting off a name we were proud of and throwing away nearly a century of pride, respect, tradition, and connection.

In the 1930s, Radnor adopted the Raider name. The mascot and imagery were introduced in 1964 when the students had a contest to present their idea of a Raider. According to community members who were in the district at the time, the Native American mascot won by a landslide. 1964 was the last year of beloved teacher and coach, Chief Metoxen coaching the football team and the student body wanted to honor him with their new mascot choice.  

In 2013, under Principal Mark Schellenger, Radnor High School made the widely popular decision to retire the Raider mascot but keep the imagery, which included the Indian profile at the football field and the “R” with the feathers. At that time, district spokesperson, Michael Petitti said, “Radnor High School and its students have officially announced the mascot will no longer be featured at athletic events. At the same time, the district recognizes the 115 years’ worth of tradition the mascot represents to our alumni. We maintain the Raider name to honor this tradition and the pride it continues to instill in our students. We also maintain certain logos – such as the encircled “R” adorned by two feathers and the signage on our football field – to recognize the bravery and courage of Native Americans – traits our athletes strive to emulate on the playing field.” 

Despite lies being perpetuated, Radnor took no official action to change the imagery or nickname until 2020. On May 11th board member Ms. Solomon claimed the discussion and goal in 2013 was to remove “Native American imagery from the Radnor schools” and that her understanding was that the “Indian head would be removed from the high school.” The district statement in 2013, stating that “The nickname “Radnor Raiders” and logos such as the “R” in a circle with feathers and the signage at Prevost Field will remain,”  refutes Solomon’s claims. 

On June 27, 2020, a group of Radnor students started a social media account called, “Radnor for Reform.” The group describes itself as, “A student-led organization dedicated to removing any cultural references from the Radnor mascot to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment in Radnor.”  I believed their goal was to dissociate Native American imagery with the district, despite the description only making a reference to a mascot that had been retired in 2013. The mission to disassociate the imagery was widely supported by the student body and community. The group set out to educate the community on the harm caused by Native American mascots and imagery. Radnor for Reform began a letter-writing campaign to the school board, which encouraged the school board to schedule a special meeting for August 4, 2020, to, “Hear Community Input on Radnor Raider Name/Mascot.” I was shocked the group was able to get a special board meeting for their cause in a little under five weeks during the pandemic but more so, I was confused, as Radnor had retired the mascot in 2013.  

After around 140 letters were read into the record, the board recessed the meeting, and they later scheduled a continuation of the meeting for September 2, 2020. There was no stated motion or agenda item listed for the 9/2 meeting, and the public believed it would be a talking session for the board. However, board members quickly voted to remove Native American imagery and put a second motion up for discussion. The second motion was to retire the name “Raiders.” Eight of the board members launched into lengthy explanations for why they supported the newly presented and unexpected motion. Because each board member was prepared with lengthy opinions regarding the new motion about the name, it was evident that the motion had been discussed by the board prior to the meeting. Yet, Radnor community members had no opportunity for public comment. People sat at home watching the meeting in disbelief. The Board voted 8-1 to end 87 years of Radnor Raider history in less than 57 minutes with no input or feedback from the community, students, or alumni.

At a January 26th meeting, the board explained the district was putting together a rebranding committee and I was excited to be one of forty members chosen. Once convened, the rebranding committee put out a survey to get community feedback on our future identity. In March, the committee learned that 75% of survey responses supported the Raider nickname. This result was great news for the majority of the committee who supported a reimagined Raider. In April, the committee was told by the administration that we were forbidden to discuss Raider or a rebranded Raider for Radnor, as it had been voted out. There was a tremendous amount of pushback from the committee, and the majority of members requested that the administration ask the School Board if we would be allowed to include Raider in our discussions. The administration refused.  

Once community focus groups began and the community learned that “Raiders” was off the table for the rebranding, people all throughout Radnor started speaking up. I, along with a few of my peers, organized a student walk-out. The purpose of the walk-out was not simply for the return of the Raider; the walkout was to ask our elected officials to listen to the students they were elected to represent. The students were asking for the name Raiders to be considered as an option in the rebranding process. We were seeking transparency and good governance from our elected officials.

Hearing our frustration, Superintendent Dr. Ken Batchelor suggested that the members of the committee who were interested in having Raiders in the discussion could write a letter to be read to the school board at the April 27th meeting. Mr. Rosin, a member of the committee and RHS teacher wrote and read the letter, signed by half the committee members, into the public comment portion of the meeting. Our request was for a rebranded “Raider” to be allowed in our rebranding discussion. The school board ignored this request.

In late April and early May, after hundreds of comments and hours of meetings, six members of the board refused to support a motion asking for Raiders to be included as an option in the student vote. I’m still astounded that our committee, the student body, and hundreds of Radnor residents can be silenced by six current board members who refuse to compromise with the community when our request was simple: please allow Raiders to be included as an option for the community to judge. 

The justification given by the six board members was hard to make out in their lengthy speeches. From what I can decipher they have 3 reasons. First, the lie that Radnor had previously retired Native American imagery and it somehow resurfaced. Second, the word “Raider” is racist. And finally, people in Radnor would be incapable of separating the retired imagery from a new Radnor Raiders brand. 

As I stated above, Radnor never retired the “R” with the feather, and the community never had the opportunity to rebrand the Raider; September of 2020 should’ve been our chance. If and when a rebranding project is taken on, the students aren’t responsible for designing and ordering uniforms and scoreboards. Athletes play in district uniforms on district fields and courts under district scoreboards. A well-executed rebranding process will be completed at the direction of the school board in the hands of the administrators, not students and parents. Furthermore, should the Raider ever return to Radnor, students will line up to purchase this new gear, especially since there weren’t many opportunities over the last two, mostly remote, school years to purchase spirit wear. 

The most polarizing excuse given to retire the Raider is the lie that it’s racist, which is a tactic used to silence opposing viewpoints and does a disservice to victims of actual racism. During public meetings, commenters said, “the Raider name is a form of hate speech that is being endorsed by hate speech,” and those aggressively supporting its return would be, “the return to the racist Radnor.” And finally, “Deciding to maintain the [Raider] name today, right now, in the face of all of the evidence of its harm to Native American communities would undeniably be a racist act right now today.”

To those interested in delving into the truth about the Raider name, the word raider is not racist. The National Congress of American Indians, a group that works to remove harmful mascots and imagery, has worked with many Raider teams to rebrand from Native American imagery. The NCAI believes that the pirate imagery of the Las Vegas Raiders does not promote harmful stereotypes of American Indians. The NCAI’s main target with mascots is the use of the R-word, as we saw in Washington when they retired their name and imagery last year. If you take the time to talk with the NCAI or research the excellent work they’ve done over the last five decades you’ll find that, of all of the resolutions they’ve passed, not a single one seeks to eliminate the team name “Raiders.” Again, this is because the word Raider is not racist. 

Throughout this past year, I’ve been frustrated by the false narrative that my support of the word Raiders is a racist act or that retaining the name Raider is harmful to Native Americans like me, my family, and my tribe. Growing up in North Carolina my grandfather attended a small, two-room schoolhouse with his ten brothers and sisters and members of his tribe. At the time, Indians weren’t permitted in schools for “whites” or for “blacks.” He’s always telling me stories about running home after school to help work the tobacco fields, but he never shares stories of being the victim of racism. Maybe it’s unique to him or his tribe, but his pride in his heritage and his pride for his family background has never been diminished by a feather on the “R” in Radnor.

I decided to look more into the myth of Raider being racist, but due to COVID, I wasn’t able to travel to North Carolina to see my grandfather’s family. With the help of Zoom, I was able to have a few lively conversations with our Chief and elders in our tribe. One by one, they assured me that the word Raider does no harm to our family or to Native Americans as a whole. They explained to me that at times more progressive activists will attempt to apply the information and data on harmful mascots and imagery to non-harmful uses for unknown reasons. Furthermore, my aunt went on to explain how damaging this can be to their cause of working to retire harmful names such as the R-word, Indians, Chiefs, Braves, and other culturally insensitive images. Following our talks, tribe members began sending my grandfather, my mom, and me examples of Raider teams with different imagery. Last week, my aunt sent me a photo of Land O’ Lakes butter before and after they retired the packaging with the image of an Indian woman. She wrote, “If a company as big as Land O’ Lakes can do it then so too can your little school in Pennsylvania!”

Land O’ Lakes Rebranding

I believe eight board members voted in September on the false narratives that Raiders is racist and harmful to Native Americans and that Radnor had previously retired the imagery and it came back. I believe in May six board members refused to add Raiders to the vote because they refused to admit they were misinformed in September and that they were wrong. This week, the Mascot and Rebranding Committee met after a month-long hiatus to review the results of the student survey, which disappointingly did not include Raiders. By this time next year, our sports teams could be playing as the Radnor Dragons, Griffins, Hawks, Phoenix, Rain Frogs, Raptors, Ruckus, or just as Radnor. But will Radnor residents ever know why community members went to the trouble of lying about the history of the mascot and imagery? Will we ever know why six board members refused to allow a compromise in Radnor or to give students the opportunity to include Raiders as an option in our rebranding? Or, why our elected officials insist the Radnor community is too stupid to reimagine the Raider? I can’t answer, only time will tell.