'It still stings': Billboard campaign aims to eliminate race-based mascots from Michigan schools

If you travel down Interstate 94 near Paw Paw, Mich., you’ll see a massive billboard with nothing more than a definition on it. 53 school and recreational sports teams in that state still have race-based team names and mascots.
A billboard near Paw Paw, Mich. simply states the dictionary definition of 'redskin.' It's sparked more conversation about removing race-based monikers from sports teams in that state. (Julie Dye/Supplied)

If you travel down Interstate 94 near Paw Paw, Mich., you'll see a massive billboard with nothing more than a definition on it.

"Redskin. Noun. Older slang: disparaging, offensive. The word 'redskin' is very offensive and should be avoided," it reads.

Julie Dye worked with the Michigan Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media to put up the billboard.

She was inspired by the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and found herself returning to the idea when she had some money leftover from a grant she received to educate teachers on race-based mascots.

"It really made an impact," Dye said. "I thought, 'Wow, this is a really good way to get a message out.'

Julie Dye was inspired by the movie 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' to put up a billboard with the definition of 'redskin' on it. (Julie Dye/Supplied)

"How more pure can you get other than the basic definition of the word?"

They're working to change the names and mascots of 53 school and recreational teams in their state. It's an issue that's been going on as long as Dye can remember. She went to school in Michigan surrounded by schools who used her Native American culture as a mascot.

"I'd have to drive by this school on game day and the businesses downtown had big painted windows that said, 'Kill the Indians' [or] 'Scalp the Redskins,'" Dye said. "Every time I'd see that, I'd say, 'They're talking about me. They're talking about my family and my people.' And it still stings to this day."

Dye and others have been trying to convince the Paw Paw Redskins to drop the mascot name, but many members of the school board and the community vehemently opposed the change.

At a school board meeting some attendees, dressed in their Redskins gear, heckled members of the coalition as the name change was being discussed.

In the end, school trustees voted 4-3 to keep the Redskins moniker. 

But the narrow loss didn't deter Dye — she said the billboard is starting to change some minds in the community. In fact, one person is now running for a vacant school board seat with the name change as part of their platform. 

The billboard is still up and will be up until at least Nov. 15. Organizers started a GoFundMe for people who want to help keep the billboard up through football season.

Dye is determined to convince as many schools as possible to drop their race-based team names.

"The motivation is there, it'll remain there for my entire life," Dye said. "I'm sure that they won't all get changed in my lifetime, but I'm going to try to do my best to make a dent in it."