WWJD? - That is the real question

 

The older I get the less impressed I am with tradition.   Don’t get me wrong, I love tradition.  But its different for me.  For example, Christmas growing up was super important to our family.  On Christmas Eve, all extended family that lived close, gathered at a relatives home for dinner, caroling, and a bit of back-biting and gossiping.  But the most important event of the evening focused on the true meaning of Christmas by way of young cousins acting out every character and symbol from the gospels telling of the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the western world.

 

I have great memories of Christmas and I still observe reverence to many of those traditions.  I still like getting and giving gifts.  I love crepes on the 24th.  When safe and possible, I love spending time with loved ones,  playing games, and watching movies.  Not Christmas movies.  Real movies.  Every year, my wife and I watch the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings trilogy during the winter break.  This year our eldest joined the club.  

 

It started with my Grandpa Wolfley, in a cold musty basement in Blackfoot Idaho when we visited.  He loved John Wayne movies and I hated them.  When it 20 below outside, you run out of options.   I’d sit in one recliner and Grandpa sat in his.  He only had one eye, so I always made sure to sit next to the glass one — if he didn’t know I was there he couldn’t ask me to run upstairs to get him food or drink.  As soon as he started to snore, I’d jump in in front of him, dancing and waving my hands in front of his face.   When I knew he was asleep, I would scan through hundreds of satellite channels hoping for a glimpse of a naked woman.  

 

My mobility was at a minimal the last Christmas I spent with Grandpa.  My buddy, in an act of revenge, dead legged me the last day before the break.  My leg wasn’t broken, but it was deeply bruised.   Grandpa and I watched at least a dozen John Wayne movies in a couple of days.   

 

I love sport traditions, too, especially college football rivalry games.  The Territory Cup, the longest rivalry game in college football, is played between Arizona State and Arizona.  This year was especially fun to watch as the Sun Devils routed the Wildcats 70-7.   

 

It may not be the oldest, but one of my favorite rivalries is the game between Notre Dame and USC.    This game is always significant and often has championship implications.   And whats not to love about the ND’s fight song and the classy and modest USC cheerleaders.  John Wayne played offensive tackle for USC in the inaugural rival game in 1926.  If you’re looking to find a vintage jersey with Wayne on the back, you’re wasting your time.  Before John Wayne was the gunslinging, drawl talking tough guy, he was Marion Morrison from Iowa.  Wonder where the western accent came from.  

 

Not all traditions are good.  A few years ago, Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Football Team, vowed to never change the name of his beloved team, despite the shame and embarrassment it causes so many Native Americans.  

 

Luckliy ,the social pressure finally caught up to him, and in 2020, Snyder acquiesced.  

 

But what about teams like my high school alma mater that still celebrate racist mascot?  

 

A few weeks ago I responded to a Facebook post about a mother’s admiration for the opportunity that her son has to play for the St. Johns high school football team, my alma mater.   Everything about the post was nice and complimentary except for the the name of the team - St. Johns Redskins.   I asked in the thread of comments when the team was going to change their mascot.  I got a few quick and resounding responses - ‘never.’

 

St. Johns is a funny little town located near the border of New Mexico in Northern Arizona.   It’s the county seed of Navajo county with a population less then 5,000.  There are not stop lights, fast food joints, or any other big city conveniences.  Originally it was San Juan, but with the influence of both Catholic and Mormon settlers, it was changed to St. Johns.  

 

Religion is an important part of St. Johns.  In late July, the town hosts “The 24th of July” or “Pioneer days” a four-day event celebrating the caravan of Mormon pioneers who relied on the faith in Jesus Christ on their journey to settle Utah.   St. Johns Days celebrations are the Catholics version..(NEED TO RESEARCH)

 

On fall and winter Friday nights, religion doesn’t matter when the town comes together to root on their football team.  I played on the St. Johns High School football during a dominant time for the school.  

 

I was responsible for one touchdown during out State championship game. There was a mercy rule for all high school football games..  If a team went up by 42 points, the game was called.  We were up 41-0 with a few minutes left.  I was the backup full back.  If I ever got into the game, it was not to run the ball - it was to block for a back with speed. 

When they called my name, I found my helmet and trotted out to the huddle. 

 

I’d never taken a handoff from the starting QB.  The second string QB, the guy who handed the ball off to me,  did not shove the ball into my stomach.  It was as big a surprise for me, my team, and the other team who swooped up the fumbled ball.  Two plays later… 41-6.  My six points.  In the locker room, after we celebrated our victory, some of the players started giving me a hard time for preventing the shut out.  I don’t remember the joke I made, but I do remember a lineman taking exception.  He grabbed me by the throat and shoved me into a locker.  That was the last organized football game I played.  

 

I am still proud that I played on that team.  It was fun being dominant.  In my high last three years of high school, we only lost one football game.  Friday night games were the highlight of the week.  Most of the town was there to cheer on their team.  We could feel their love and energy and we enjoyed winning as much for us as for them.  

 

On our road to the state championship that year, we beat down several teams from the Navajo Reservation, relying on the mercy rule to leave at half-time so we could get home a decent hour.  I remember one game we thrashed the Chinle Wildcats.  After the shorten game, the opposing coach, obviously offended, head-butted our coach.  A melee ensued.  Once the fight ended, the local police men escorted us to Taco Bell and secured the area.  While we ate, our bus was pelted with dozens of eggs.  

 

At the time I felt like our team was the victim.  Now it makes sense.  A team of arrogant white kids and coaches with an offensive name to many Native Americans, waltzes into their world to demoralize and embarrasses them just so we could get home earlier.   We did that to many teams.    

 

Native Americans have a history of being beaten down time and time again.  They were forced from their lands.  Settlers, hunters and explorers depleted their natural resources.  Foreign diseases and calamities wiped out thousands.  

 

I taught high school for years.  On my classroom wall next to posters of Steve Martin and Miles Davis, hung a painting of John Wayne, a nifty thrift store purchase.  Only a handful of students knew who he was.  Many thought he was my grandpa. 

 

One day a colleague shared her disdain for John Wayne and his movies after seeing the painting.  I was offended.  How could she hate an American Icon?  I didn’t take it down.   

 

And then I read some of John Wayne’s comments about Native Americans.

 

“I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that's what you're asking.  Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of 

survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians 

were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

 

I no longer don the painting.  Was John Wayne a bad man?  I don’t think so, but I believe his bigoted views of Native Americans, demonstrated by his comments and the characters he played in old western films, are wrong and outdated.  But it does give us a glimpse into the the many minds of people who defend the use of controversial mascots.  

 

Defenders of bigoted mascots argue that many Native American are not offended.  There are Natives who embrace and celebrate some of these mascots, but that doesn’t make it right to ignore the feelings and concerns of those who are upset and want changes.  

 

While playing high school football in St. Johns, I also attended daily seminary classed taught just off school property.  I always appreciated Jesus’ take on the way we should treat each other, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  

 

 

Making fun of any people, race or creed is wrong and uncalled for.  What would Jesus do?  He would change the mascot.  

 

My home town is not going to get much pressure to change its name, especially from the townsfolk.  The only way they change their name is if the pressure comes from outside.  Perhaps their rival, the Round Valley Elks, could cancel their games until they do the right thing.  Maybe they hold on until the State of Arizona steps in and sanctions their sports teams until they adopt an appropriate mascot.  

 

This could all be a moot point if St. Johns acts now.  I have a great suggestion for the new mascot.  St. Johns Saints — works for Latter-Day Saints and Catholic Saints.  Maybe even a shield divided into sections with images of Saint Sebastian, Joseph Smith, a cross, and a trumpeted Moroni.