Utah high school to replace Braves mascot amid backlash

FILE - Lemiley Lane, a Bountiful junior who grew up in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, poses for a photograph at Bountiful High School, July 21, 2020, in Bountiful, Utah. While advocates have made strides in getting Native American symbols and names changed in sports, they say there's still work to do mainly at the high school level, where mascots like Braves, Indians, Warriors, Chiefs and Redskins persist. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A mostly white high school near Salt Lake City will replace its contentious Braves mascot after nearly 70 years, the principal said Monday, as school and professional sports teams face increasing backlash about using Native American names and symbols.

Bountiful High School will start the process of selecting a “culturally sensitive mascot that will unite all stakeholders,” Principal Aaron Hogge announced. He did not provide a timeline or what replacement names are being considered but said the class of 2021 will graduate as Braves.

“At times, depictions of Native Americans has crossed a line of cultural respect,” Hogge said. “Attempts have been made over the years to become more culturally sensitive. I believe leaders and students in the past have had the best of intentions to create unity, respect, honor, courage and bravery when they used the Braves mascot.”

An informal mascot — a student dressed up in feathers — is no longer allowed at school events but calls for Bountiful to change the Braves name mounted this summer during a nationwide push for racial justice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the NFL team in Washington dropping the Redskins name.

Bountiful’s logo also was changed in recent years from a Native American man to the letter “B” with a feather or arrow on it, Davis County School District spokesman Chris Williams said.

Administrators began reviewing the mascot in early August and created a committee to identify and discuss concerns by those wishing to remove it. They sought input from representatives of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, students, faculty and staff, as well as community members.

It’s not clear how many high schools have built their sports team imagery around Native Americans, but advocates have said it’s in the hundreds — down significantly from decades ago.

At the college level, Native American mascots seen as “hostile and abusive” have been banned in championship play since 2005. Some schools, including the University of Utah and Florida State University, have agreements with local tribes to use their names and imagery.

Professional sports teams that have Native American-themed names and mascots increasingly are facing backlash, including baseball’s Atlanta Braves and the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. This summer, the Cleveland Indians baseball team said it would talk with Native Americans as it considers a name change.

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Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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