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When the Redskins Became the RedHawks

Swoop the RedHawk

I briefly mentioned yesterday how the Miami University (of Ohio) RedHawks would be coming to D.C. next week for the Frozen Four. This prompted a few e-mails from proud RedHawks, one of whom signed his message "Redskins Forever."

Because I'm stupid, I sat here for a couple seconds trying to think of the connection between the 'Skins and the RedHawks, before I remembered that, oh yes, more than a decade ago the RedHawks were the Redskins, before the original nickname became caught up in the NCAA mascot wars. This was, as you'd expect, a hugely controversial and contentious process, with "the RedHawks" eventually being chosen over "the Miamis" and "the ThunderHawks" after the Board of Trustees voted to drop a nickname that had been used for nearly 70 years. A few years ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer revisited that time when reviewing the tenure of the school's president, Jim Garland.

While some fans and boosters supported the change - Miami became the "RedHawks" - others shouted about lost tradition and political correctness run amok. Jim Garland, welcome to Miami.

"That was a very emotional time period. You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy," said Eric Hyman, who was Miami's athletic director from 1995 to 1997. "It was a difficult issue for him to cut his teeth on."

And on some level, Garland never escaped it. "Me, personally, I'll always resent the way the Redskin issue was handled, and he was a part of that," said William Gunlock, a trustee who quit in 1997. "I'm not going to say anything negative about Dr. Garland. It would serve no purpose. We had a disagreement, and I still disagree with him."

It's an issue people disagree on in every corner of the country. The Miami switch prompted "Redskins forever; RedHawks never" t-shirts and bumper stickers, threats to withhold donations, student protests and everything else you'd expect, and the outrage continued for years. Just last December, Colusa (Calif.) High changed its teams' mascots from Redskins to RedHawks, which was chosen over RiverHawks and Cougars in another contentious debate. And when I was talking to Bill Nye the Science Guy last week about his love of the Nats, he also talked about how much he loved the Redskins as a kid.

"Can I tell you this on the record: I just do not like the name Redskins," he then said. "Can't we do better? Can't we come up with something? I grew up with a lot of racial tension. There's no need for it. Leave it out. Come up with something better."

Anyhow, with the RedHawks coming to D.C., it seemed like an interesting side note. For more context, here's a Columbus Dispatch story by Doug Caruso from right when the nickname was changed, in April of '97.


OXFORD, Ohio: For a few minutes after he voted to change Miami University's nickname from Redskins to RedHawks, Trustee William L. Gunlock kept his composure.

Then a reporter asked him whether he still considers himself a Redskin.

''I will always be a Redskin,'' he replied. His jaw began to quiver, and tears welled up in his eyes.

''When you play (football) for four years and you were a coach for 10 years and you were always a Redskin - it runs pretty deep for our alumni in a way the current administration doesn't understand.''

Still, Gunlock, who played guard for the Redskins from 1947 to 1951, joined in a unanimous vote yesterday that ended 25 years of debate over using a nickname some consider derogatory.

He said he voted in the interest of board unity and took some solace in the board's decision to keep a realistic drawing of a two-feathered Indian chief as the school's logo. In September, Gunlock was the lone dissenter when the board voted to look for a new nickname.

The Miami tribe of Oklahoma, which once inhabited the Oxford area and maintains close ties to the school, told the university last summer it no longer would support using an Indian-related nickname for the school's sports teams.

Miami President James Garland said he hopes the university can now focus on other issues, such as state funding and improving minority enrollment and retention on the campus of about 15,500 students.

''I think this has been a divisive issue at Miami for 25 years, and it has distracted our energies from other important issues,'' he said. ''I think it's an acknowledgment that times have changed, and it's an acknowledgment of the power of language.''

Michaela Compiseno, a Miami junior, wondered what she will do with all her Redskins T-shirts when the change takes effect June 30.

She also is puzzled by the decision to change the name to RedHawks but keep the Indian chief logo, she said. ''They have nothing to do with one another.''

Compiseno said she learned in her American Studies class that redskin was an offensive term for Indians in the 19th century but she still disagrees with the switch.

''It's tradition. It's what we're known for, and now no one will know who we are.''

Gray Churin, a sophomore, said Miami has bigger things to worry about.

''School pride is not that big of a thing here,'' he said. ''I don't think it's on the top of people's list.''

Tell that to Harold Paul, a former Miami trustee who drove to Oxford from Findlay, Ohio, because of the name issue.

The board ignored alumni and students who didn't want the name changed, he said. ''The majority doesn't rule anymore.''

Another alumnus, John Leuckey, has filed a lawsuit seeking to force the university to maintain the Redskins nickname. That suit is pending.

RedHawks was one of three nicknames - including ThunderHawks and Miamis - that were brought to the board in February after the university asked 100,000 alumni, students and parents for suggestions, said Miami spokesman Richard Little. The questionnaire did not ask whether people supported a name switch, he said.

Redhawks are birds native to Ohio and to Oklahoma, Little said. An Ohio bird guide lists red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks but not redhawks. No redhawk could be found in a comprehensive bird guide either.

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 1, 2009; 12:13 PM ET
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I'd vote for a name change for the Washington NFL franchise.

Posted by: WaPoGuy | April 1, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

How about: The "Snyders"?

Posted by: hithere1 | April 2, 2009 6:20 AM | Report abuse

Bring back the spear helmet & call them the RedSpears.

Posted by: dgresh | April 2, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

YAWN............Give it a rest Steinberg. The name isn't changing. It's Washington REDSKINS.

Posted by: poguesmahone | April 2, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I was at Miami when the change happened. I thought it sucked, but 'eh not really a big deal. The old logo was much much cooler though.

Posted by: mgv4232 | April 2, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

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