By Rick Assad
When professional sports teams, colleges and high schools named its mascot after Native Americans, it was meant to honor those indigenous people.
For decades, very little thought was given to these names and images that were meant to glorify Native Americans, but were in fact seen by many as offensive.
More recently, with pressure from several fronts, the thinking across the board has been altered which caused several teams to reconsider the past.
In fact, in 2020 alone, the Washington Redskins, a once-great and wildly popular franchise which has claimed two NFL championships along with three Super Bowl banners, came into being in 1932 as the Boston Braves and a year later changed its name to the Redskins, were for at least this past year called the Washington Football Team.
It’s believed that the team will have a new name and logo by the start of the 2021 football season.
The Cleveland Indians, which began operation in 1894 and were named the Indians in 1915, played their last season with that name in 2020 and will also have a new moniker and logo before the new baseball season commences.
Some of the first to rid itself of the Native American names were colleges and universities including Stanford, St. John’s, Marquette, Dartmouth, Evansville, Miami of Ohio, St. Bonaventure and William & Mary.
Closer to home, the Burroughs High student body recently voted to change its longstanding name, the Indians. A new name will also be voted upon.
A number of present and former Burroughs student/athletes were asked what they thought of the name change and what they would like to see the new mascot be.
Jessie Virtue, a senior defender on the girls’ soccer team where she’s been named to the All-Pacific League, first team as a junior and sophomore, offered an opinion on the matter.
“I know that there has been much controversy over the mascot name change at Burroughs for years and years,” she said. “I remember hearing that they were debating on a name change during my older sister [Emily, who is attending Columbia University where she is on the track and cross country team] freshman year which was 2014, and I am sure it was talked about years before that.”
Virtue went on: “My point is, I am excited that we are finally reaching a point where we can come to a real conclusion. In my opinion, it’s a bit hypocritical to preach that our school has an all inclusive, loving environment, and at the same time carry a name that is offensive to many people,” she noted. “A few years ago our student council talked with a few Native American tribes who came out and said that they thought our mascot was offensive and that should have been where we nipped it in the bud and changed it, but the debate went on. Hopefully as a community we can try to make some positive change.”
Virtue’s mind is filled with names she would like to see adopted by the student body, but is drawn to one.
“I am open to a lot of new mascot names and I have not really heard too many suggestions. But one thing that I noticed in several Burbank schools is that there is very little female representation,” she said. “I think it would be a nice step in the right direction, especially in the nature of inclusivity to suggest this. Rosie the Riveter is a really great symbol of strength and female empowerment and to have a mascot of “The Riveters” could be a great new change for us.”
Virtue added: “I know that many people will be very opposed to this, but I think it is a very worthy suggestion to be considered,” she said. “I also think this could be a great nod to Burbank’s history of aircraft production in World War II since Rosie the Riveter was such a powerful new symbol then.”
Alyssa Valenzuela plays shortstop on the softball team and has been in the Associated Student Body for several years.
“In the past three years that I have been in ASB, the mascot decision has always been a present topic,” said Valenzuela, who is the ASB president. “I think that if the change is not made now, then the future ASB and student body will continue to have this discussion. Inevitably, the name will have to change, so we might as well take action now.”
What name would suit Valenzuela? “There have been numerous mascot suggestions flooding ASB,” she said. “However, I really want our new mascot to resemble strength as well as ensuring that the Burroughs community is comfortable and proud of what our school represents.”
Kayla Wrobel, a senior on the girls’ basketball team, is one of many generations in her family who have attended Burroughs, which opened its doors in 1948.
“Although I know the right decision is to change the mascot, I will be sad to see the tradition go,” she explained. “My siblings, both my parents and grandparents went to Burroughs and I know it will hurt my grandmother to see the Indian go.”
A decorated power forward, Wrobel has some ideas on the new name.
“Personally I would like to keep red as our color,” said Wrobel, who was tabbed All-League first team and All-CIF second team as a junior after pouring in 9.5 points and 7.9 rebounds and making honorable mention as a sophomore after tallying 8.5 points with 7.1 caroms. “A mascot to go with red would be preferred. Possibly the Redhawks, Bulls or Bears.”
Randy Simmrin, a former standout wide receiver at Burroughs and later at USC where he was a member of the 1974 national champion team, also chimed in.
“I have seen this issue about the Indian name for Burroughs being changed,” he said. “I always answer the same way by saying, “I was a Burroughs Indian. I will always be a Burroughs Indian. That will never change.” Showing respect for others does not take away my past. A change away from being called Indians is okay with me.”
With regard to the new name, Simmrin said he hasn’t given it too much thought.
“The only name that comes to mind is Broncos. The mascot being a horse,” he said.
Lauryn Bailey is a senior forward on the girls’ soccer team and is a prolific player having tallied 67 goals with 31 assists in three seasons.
“Unfortunately, with this being my last year at John Burroughs High School added to the disappointment of not being on campus at all as of yet, I have less emotional attachment to this change,” she said. “I’m sure if I was an active on-campus student with years ahead of me, I’d feel more passionate about any change.”
Bailey, who has been named All-League first team as a junior and sophomore, did say that everyone is so used to the old name, it’s going to take a while to forget about it.
“Having some of my relatives graduate as a Burroughs Indian and being an Indian myself for four years, it will be sad to see it change,” said Bailey, who was the co-Player of the Year as a junior. “It’s been our presentation for ages. The school is so well known for that stamp on Burbank, but even with a change, the memory will never be lost.”
Nicholas Garcia, a former Burroughs starting quarterback on the football team and a point guard on the boys’ hoop squad, is fine with the name change.
“I feel that this year is the year for change. Although I love the mascot Indians, I understand that people may get offended by it,” said Garcia, who passed for 1,980 yards with 30 touchdowns and ran for 415 yards with seven scores on the gridiron and averaged seven points with five assists on the hardwood as a senior. “I loved being an Indian and will forever be grateful to have been one.”
Garcia, who is attending Glendale Community College where he is on the football team and also plans on transferring to Cal Poly Pomona or UC Davis, has an idea what the new mascot should be. “Maybe the Trojans or something of that nature,” he said.