Watch out … here come the Redskins!” a booming voice shouted from the speakers at Harry E. Franks Stadium in Bucks County.
Underneath the bright stadium lights, there is the student section, which calls itself “Skins Nation,” a group of seniors who paint out “Redskins” on their stomachs and wear Native American headdresses.
I was in the marching band in high school. I attended every football game and participated in my fair share of school spirit, but I never really saw myself as a member of Skins Nation. On the Friday nights in autumn, I watched as members of my senior class experienced inebriated football games as they “honored” their mascot.
I was also involved with my high school newspaper, the Playwickian, where I debated more than just the oxford comma.
What I learned my senior year at Neshaminy High School is that there is a fine line between school spirit and the defamation of a group of people.
In our first issue during my senior year, we decided to take a stance against our school mascot. A Native-American woman from my hometown of Langhorne, Pennsylvania issued a formal complaint at the state level against our high school’s use of the mascot. It brought up a discussion in the Playwickian’s school office. The editorial board came to a two-thirds decision to ban the use of the word “Redskin” from the high school newspaper.
We didn’t even expect people to notice. We were convinced not many people read the high school paper, anyway. But once our administration tried to prevent our ban and to compel speech, the entire school let their voice be heard. They believed it infringed on the rights of other students who would want to use the word in the paper. Interestingly, the First Amendment began to fight against itself.
I remember walking into my math class one morning in November to find a recycling bin on my desk with the latest issue of the Playwickian crumpled up inside. Disapproval as apparent as this was something that I didn’t expect as an 18-year-old high school student, but that was just the beginning. The next thing I knew, our editorial was being featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post and on several other news outlets.
The Neshaminy Redskins own my hometown. When you take a trip to the local Modell’s sports shop, Redskins T-shirts and hoodies are placed meticulously at the front of the store. When you look around Neshaminy High School, it’s glorified with posters supporting the team. The football program receives the most funding of any school activity.
So when a group of student journalists decided to take a stance against that, it didn’t settle well. Twitter became an outlet for students to say, “No one reads the Playwickian anyway” or to get in social media wars with ESPN newscaster Keith Olbermann. My high school became a sitcom.
But despite the controversy, our story sparked something – a conversation. It was all over my Facebook News Feed, which in 2014 signifies a big deal. In my French class, we had a debate over it in one of the world’s most beautiful languages. The fact that I could be a part of something that caused enough students to start voicing their opinions was inspiring. However, with conversation comes discouragement.
We could’ve just given in and decided to publish the word again. Everything would have blown over and Neshaminy would have returned to a peaceful state. But we stuck to our guns, just as journalists should. And I think that’s what I learned most about this experience.
Since I’ve graduated, I have little involvement in the matter. But I’ve watched these high school journalists mature and learn to handle new experiences with the highest degree of character. It’s taught me that not everyone is going to agree with you and to take every criticism with a grain of salt. I’ve learned a lot more about myself through a high school publication than any other heartbreak, class or experience in my teenage life. When I look back at high school, I don’t recall the drama class that I took freshman year or the ongoing contract battle of the teachers, but I do remember the Playwickian newspaper and the impact the student editorial board left on the school.
The editors were and still are my best friends. It was a conglomeration of every personality. There was a sports editor who was infatuated with rock and roll, Hunter S. Thompson and cowboy boots, my co-editor, who was an Abraham Lincoln enthusiast and who will probably be president one day and a redheaded leader who is going to take the journalism world by storm. Through the Playwickian mascot debacle, it showcases the importance of student journalism. We weren’t students writing a persuasive piece, but journalists who might one day make a difference.
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @emilyscott315