When I was a kid, we used to walk through groves of giant eucalyptus trees on the way to Stanford football stadium. When we got to the stadium, we picked up a football program, which was full of pictures of the star players and statistics about the opposing teams. On the front cover of the program was the ubiquitous symbol of the Stanford Indians, a short, smiling Indian with a disproportionately huge head and nose. And now, many years later, as I remember the picture of this cartoon caricature, I can understand why this symbol of the team would offend many American Indians. Every man and woman and every race and nationality has a God-given dignity that should be treated with respect. About fifteen year ago, Stanford University changes the name of their sports teams to the Cardinals.
The memories flowed back when I read AB 2115 (Goldberg), which would require the State Board of Education to maintain a list of names of sports teams that are considered to be derogatory or discriminatory against any race, ethnicity, nationality or tribal group. The bill would prohibit any public K-12 school, college or university from using any name on the disapproved list. I agree that schools should not name or portray their sports teams in such a way as to be offensive to individual or racial groups. I think that “Spartans,” “Trojans,” “Fighting Irish,” and “Braves” can be portrayed with dignity. But the more important question is who should decide whether a team name is “derogatory or discriminatory” or not. Assemblywoman Goldberg thinks that the state, rather than the local school board and citizens, knows best.
If AB 2115 is enacted, the State Board of Education, like the Star Chamber in the bad old days of the Inquisition, will hear testimony from organized groups and decide which team names would be placed on the Index. And because the State Board has solved all of our education problems, there is no harm in putting the State Board through hours and hours of testimony about which teams are “derogatory or discriminatory.” I can’t wait, just for the sheer theater, for the day when some animal rights group will stand up for the dignity and, indeed, the very longevity of ants and go after the UC Irvine “Anteaters.” Encouraging the wanton massacre of ants is surely the ultimate form of discrimination. What kind of example is this for the children? This must be stopped.
I put more faith in parents, school administrators, and elected school board members to decide what team name will be on the jerseys of little Sheila and John. What qualifies an appointed member of the State Board of Education to make such decisions? I’m not convinced that the Wisdom of Solomon is automatically conferred on a politically connected man or woman who makes a $10,000 campaign contribution to the winning candidate for Governor and then gets a board appointment. But so far, the Legislature disagrees. AB 2115 passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee by a vote of 6-0.
This is not the only example of the miniaturization of our Legislature. Last week, the Assembly Health Committee heard AB 2447 (Goldberg), which would prohibit infant formula manufacturers, hospitals and health care professionals from distributing free samples of infant formula to a mother, expectant mother, and family members of the expectant mother at any time during the pregnancy, birth, discharge from hospital or after she discharges from hospital. Right now, many new mothers are given a bag that contains information about the nutritional advantages of breastfeeding, a coupon for a breast pump and one free can of infant formula.
All the experts that testified before the committee agreed about the advantages of breastfeeding so the debate focused on the central question of who should decide. Assemblywoman Goldberg thinks that state officials know best and if anyone disagrees and decides to give away a sample can of infant formula they would have to pay a fine of $100 for a first violation and $500 for subsequent violations of this great crime. Assemblywoman Charlene Zettle told the author that she thought that it was demeaning to a woman’s intelligence to think that a mother wasn’t smart enough to decide whether to take a can of free infant formula home with her or not. In a moment of temporary lucidity, the committee agreed, and the bill only received a few votes out of the 10 needed for passage.
In the television series “Father Knows Best,” the actor Robert Young played the part of the father who earned the respect of his family by wise decisions. But with the burgeoning budget deficits, traffic congestion, and government-created inflation in health and workers’ compensation insurance premiums, perhaps the Legislature should shelve the “State Knows Best” approach. Where the problems are local in nature, elected officials in local governments and residents themselves have the intelligence to make their own decisions.
While the Legislature ponders such minutia as these two examples among many, they seem to have developed amnesia when it comes to responding to the terrorist threats, the fact that dangerous criminals walk free, our health care system continues to deteriorate with over six million Californians uninsured, and that state spending has outstripped revenues this year in unprecedented proportions. Let’s get back to focusing on what is important to citizens. Our founders knew this. The California Legislature should heed the words of President John Adams: “Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now before us.”
May 2, 2002
Postscript: AB 30 (Ajejo), Statutes of 2016, banned the use of the term “Redskin” for mascots in all public schools in California.