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Rohl shares message of eliminating Native-based mascots with student journalists

Prescott senior Cody Rohl shared his message of eliminating Native-based mascots at the National High School Journalism Convention in Chicago held Nov. 1-4. Photo courtesy of Jeff Ryan1 / 2
Cody Rohl pictured with Barbara Munson, the chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force, at the National High School Journalism Convention. Photo courtesy of Jeff Ryan2 / 2

Prescott senior Cody Rohl has always been an avid football fan, but it wasn't until middle school that Rohl's Sundays spent watching one of his favorite sports drew him to an issue that's much more significant than which team wins the NFC North.

"I remember in middle school watching football and looking at the Washington logo and team name. It just kind of puts a bad taste in your mouth when you say it," Rohl said referring to the Washington Redskins' team name, "but I never really did anything about it."

As a freshman in high school, Rohl and his civics classmates were assigned with picking a national issue and writing a paper that described their position on said issue. Rohl chose the race-based logo issue because of the direct connection he had competing against the Osceola Chieftains and the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks in baseball.

From there, Rohl's interest and involvement with the logo issue grew when he visited Lac Du Flambeau as a sophomore and built relationships with Native Americans who were passionate about the logo issue.

As a junior, Rohl got involved with the Prescott Student Council's efforts to bring awareness to the issue by wearing T-shirts that read "'INDIAN' LOGOS PROMOTE RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND STEREOTYPING" at Prescott's home games against Osceola and Baldwin-Woodville, but the Prescott senior's activism wasn't complete.

Rohl attended the National High School Journalism Convention held Nov. 1-4 at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago where he represented the Wisconsin Indian Education Association's Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force and shared the work Prescott students have done to raise awareness about the logo topic in Wisconsin to young high school journalists. Rohl was joined by students from Black River Falls, Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua, Wis. and UW-Milwaukee who all shared the same passion for eliminating Native-based mascots at all levels of athletics.

The convention was attended by 6,000 people who were primarily high school journalists.

"We knew that the logo issue is a very important issue and that journalism in high schools could help us spread the word," Rohl said. "I can't myself just go talk to everybody about it to inform them, but if we were able to write a formal article in a newspaper, we could get the message to everyone a lot sooner. That's why we knew we had to target the journalists so that they could get the word out for us."

Rohl and his fellow student speakers spoke to over 200 high school journalists from all over the country, many of whom had not considered the logo issue at the high school level.

"They were aware of the national issue with the Washington team and the Cleveland team, but they had never really thought about it at the high school level and how they could make a difference," Rohl said. "They were interested and they were all open to change; none of them were very negative towards what we had to say. They kind of had an aha moment when they made connections with the mascots in their own conferences."

The opportunity to enlighten students from all over the United States was presented to Rohl in July when Prescott's First Nations teacher Jeff Ryan heard from Barbara Munson, the chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association's Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force. Munson was contacted by a man in California who was aware of Prescott students' work on the issue and the school's robust First Nations curriculum and wanted to pay for a Prescott student's trip to the convention in Chicago. Munson asked if Ryan had a student who'd be willing to share Prescott's work with the students at the NHSJ Convention, and Ryan chose Rohl since he was an elected member of the student council and the student representative of the Prescott School Board.

"That was crazy knowing that what we're doing here in the small town of Prescott, Wis. is getting out to people in California," Rohl said. "I was excited for the opportunity, and I was blown away by the fact that someone was that generous."

Considering the generosity of the anonymous donor and the extraordinary opportunity to share his stance on a large platform, Rohl spent many months preparing for his trip to Chicago by reading pamphlets and books related to the logo issue while researching Prescott's involvement with the topic that includes passing bills, testifying in Madison, being interviewed on TV and radio shows and most recently, organizing protests.

During that time, Rohl learned that over 30 schools in Wisconsin have changed their mascots, while over 30 schools in the state still use race-based mascots.

"That's what blows me away and motivates me to stay involved in this issue," Rohl said.

Rohl's passion for the logo issue allowed him to get over his nerves of public speaking and successfully educate other high school students on why the Native-based mascot issue is so important. The majority of the hour-long "Working to Eliminate 'Indian' Mascots" presentation allowed for audience members to ask Rohl and three other student speakers about their chosen topic. Rohl said he ran into some students who tried to justify their schools' Native-based mascots by saying they don't use their logo all the time or that they just feature spearheads, but Rohl and the other three speakers hit home on the fact that a spearhead logo is just as racist as those used by Washington's NFL team or Cleveland's MLB team.

Rohl's position on the logo issue was met with only positive feedback at the convention, but the Prescott senior knows he and his classmates will have their values challenged as they continue their work in Wisconsin. Rohl's firm belief in the necessity of eliminating Native-based mascots outweighs the opposition that may come his and his classmates' way in the future.

"I'm not Native American, but when I look at the issue in general, it is racism," Rohl said. "In its purest form, it is racism. The Washington football team's mascot is a defined, derogatory, racial slur. I've been to Lac Du Flambeau and I've built a relationship with those people, so I consider them my friends, and when racism and derogatory terms are directed towards anyone and especially my friends, I don't like it very much."

Prescott students may never have the opportunity to spread awareness about the logo issue at the NHSJ Convention again, but members of the high school's student council will continue to do their part by sharing and continuing their work at the local level. Rohl and his classmates are hoping to speak directly with Osceola and Baldwin-Woodville's student councils about their mascots and logos in the near future.

"Students in high school are the most open to change," Rohl said. "Adults kind of have the idea of 'It's been that way since I was 2 years old.' Students are open to change and new ideas, so that's who we want to deal with."