Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Taking a Stand

Malcolm Lester
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

The Washington football team. 

It first started as a local debate, and now it is a national one.

For me, it started at home. Close to 10 years ago, my wife and I made the decision to stop calling our local football team by its nickname. We didn’t make a fuss about it and we kept watching games, but we referred to the team in conversation, within the family and outside it, as “the Washington football team.” 

Many people didn’t notice that we stopped calling the burgundy and gold by its “mascot”; some gave strange looks at the deliberate omission, and others applauded us and said that they, too, should follow suit.

Fast-forward about eight years, to my first year as Head of School at Grace Episcopal Day School. My son, then a second grader at Grace, reported to me that one of his classmates had written a letter to Washington’s owner, asking him about the nickname. The response the Grace student received from the owner (according to my son) was that “we have never used the term in an offensive manner.” 

Based on what my son and the letter-writer’s parents told me, the Grace student did not buy the explanation.

I reflected on what the Grace student, at a very young age, had done. According to his parents, he wrote the letter of his own volition. “Good for him,” I thought to myself, “for taking a stand.”

Now that this team name topic has nearly run its course and a name change appears to be a matter of “when” and not ‘if,” I have thought back to my history with the team’s nickname. 

Why didn’t I take a stand? I felt strongly enough about it to not use the word for a decade. I could have written an editorial, encouraged others to join me, led a petition drive, stopped watching games, or conducted a merchandise boycott. As a Head of School, I could have led a conversation, or even movement, at our school. 

There are those who may say that an educator should not tackle this topic in a public fashion—and perhaps that is what held me back. I wonder, then, if an educator is to shy away from this topic, what issues are considered fair game? 

Many in this region and beyond have drawn strength from Bishop Mariann Budde’s public stance for gun control and against gun violence. There are those, I suspect, who might say that jumping into the fray on a hotly-contested policy issue is outside of a Bishop’s job description. There are even more who laud her for being courageous, for having a voice, and for giving voice to those who no longer have one.

Pursuant to the team name debate, our 2014 graduation speaker—DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFL Players Association and former Grace Episcopal Day School parent—said it well. 

“I do not believe anyone should inflict pain, embarrass, or insult…I think we’re in a better world if we’re not intentionally offending anyone.” The epigram from Ephesians above provides strong support for what Mr. Smith is saying.

In regards to the Washington team discussion, is it time to do what is said in Romans 16:17? 

 “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”

Only time will tell.

Malcolm Lester is the Head of School at Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington, Maryland, serving students in preschool through fifth grade. You may follow Malcolm and Grace on Twitter at @MalcolmatGrace.