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Outlawed Athletics

Cancel Culture Censorship’s Efforts to Erase an Era

For the crime of being a proud Saranac Lake Redskins high school football alumnus …
And daring to write about it.


Author’s Note:  It all started innocently enough. The online publication I was working with had just published a story that I originally wrote and posted on my blog two winters ago, titled “Don’t Touch the Buttons.” It’s a story about Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival and an experience I had one day attempting to purchase some old Winter Carnival buttons.
I never anticipated these charges. Not for one Saranac Lake minute. Neither did my publication’s editor at the time. In fact, she remarked;
This whole thing definitely caught me off guard. Of all the things to take issue with…That was definitely not on my radar!”
That made two of us.
Regardless, suddenly there I was. I had somehow suddenly become the target of some self-appointed “Saranac Laker” sheriff deputy’s anonymous arrest warrant.

     According to an old Adirondack Daily Enterprise article I found archived on the “Friends and Alumni of Saranac Lake High School” Facebook group website, the whole thing dates back to December 1948, when the student body of Saranac Lake High School voted unanimously to change the name of their athletic teams to “The Saranac Lake Redskins”.
     I was not there in 1948 for that vote. I wasn’t even born until 1963. By then Saranac Lake’s teams had been known as “The Redskins” for a good fifteen years.  My family didn’t move to Saranac Lake until the summer of 1973, the year I entered the 5th grade. I was 9 years old at the time, completely unaware that I was about to become culpable in an ongoing crime.
     With names like Rotary Club, Rosebud Creamery and Ayres Insurance, my Matty League baseball teams weren’t implicated. All of our Petrova elementary and middle school gym class teams were either “shirts” or “skins”, unless we wore those flimsy colored sleeveless jerseys, then we were “green”, “blue” or “red”.
    So, my first real connection to the “Saranac Lake Redskins”, was actually as a freshman Saranac Lake High School band member, crashing the cymbals or beating a bass drum on fall Saturdays at all the area NAC high school football fields while our varsity Redskins squad faced off against their opponents for gridiron battle.
     I ran track as a freshman and sophomore. We had SLHS on our uniforms. I couldn’t make the baseball team. I played CYO basketball. Those uniforms read “St. Pius”.
     It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I moved beyond drum playing cheerleader to finally become a proud full full-fledged member of the Saranac Lake Redskins.
     I was a young Adirondack outlaw back then, making a lot of questionable choices, as well as a few downright bad ones. I could have gone either way at that point. I think Coach Raymond saw that.
     He recruited me for his football team near the end of my sophomore year on the Saranac Lake Track team, where I was a distance runner and pretty good miler.

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It’s funny, looking back now. While my memoires of Saranac Lake Redskins football are vividly strong, when I think back to my days on the track team, we were simply “Saranac Lake”. I cannot explain why that is, but it is. Those are my memories. I have no intentions of changing them.
     Anyways, Coach Raymond recruited me to play varsity football, despite the fact that the day I first walked into his Redskins squad’s practice field “two a days” huddle and he introduced me to the team with;
     “Men, this here is Monk. He doesn’t know if the ball is blown up or stuffed.”
     He was right.
     Regardless, Coach Raymond for some reason thought enough of me to give me his college roommate’s nickname on day one. It stuck. I’ve worn it as a badge of honor ever since. Even today, in certain Saranac Lake circles, folks still call me that.
     I never was a great high school football player. I mainly played left bench. My primary job was on the practice field during the week, where I embraced my role and took my job very seriously.
     It was the job of me and my fellow practice squad members, guys with nicknames like “Dupe”, “Monk” & ”Bomber” to play as hard as possible all week long to make sure the starters were ready to go on Saturday. We took that job seriously. We charged through the line, blocked like hell, studied game film and mimicked opposing team tendencies.
     We paid a price of our own in that role, getting banged up, bruised and battered around. Anyone who has experienced the receiving end of a “D” block from a Mack truck named Doty, been flattened by a backfield block from a back named Camelo or Bach, or a starting lineman named Cantwell, Tolhurst or Sawyer, knows full well exactly what I’m talking about. That experience helped make men out of all of us.

      Coach Raymond taught us all so much, on and off the field. The lessons I learned playing Saranac Lake Redskins football became part of me, a key pillar in my life’s foundation. They gave me the tools I would desperately need going forward. I never would have gotten an Army ROTC scholarship, made it through Cornell, Army Airborne or U. S Army Ranger School without them.
     That time period in my life taught me what things like “mental toughness”, “teamwork”, “pride”, “blood sweat & tears” and “sacrifice” meant.
     Those Saranac Lake Redskins gridiron lessons gave me the tools I would need to later lead a team of men south to the Mexican border in the early days of the war on drugs, get every man in alive, every man out, accomplish our assigned mission, and earn each of my men medals.
     That time on the football field gave me the strength to beat cancer. Not once, not twice, but three times. It made me a better husband and father.
     I explained all of those things to my editor. To no avail.
     When my story “Don’t Touch the Buttons” appeared in their on-line publication, the vast majority of the comments were positive.

     “Great story…Congratulations!”
     “Richard, wow! I think this was the best piece of “Adirondackana” that I have ever read!”
     “As always, it is a pleasure to read your reminiscences of Saranac Lake.”
     “Great story as usual. Always look forward to them.”
     ‘What an amazing story!”
     “You took me back down the memory lane. We love the Adirondack Outlaw.”
      Until suddenly, out of the blue, the editor messaged me. An anonymous someone deputizing himself as “Saranac Laker” had called HER boss and complained about my references to the Saranac Lake Redskins as being a “racist slur” and requested that any such references be removed.
     I was caught completely by surprise really. Looking back now, I find it rather odd. That “Buttons” story was about the rude treatment a disabled cancer survivor received trying to buy some old buttons in the Winter Carnival store. That whole incident made me feel quite badly. I wrote the story hoping someone might see fit to apologize. No one ever did.
      Instead, I got attacked with posted suggestions that because I reminisced about my days playing Saranac Lake Redskins football that I was somehow some sort of racist. I used the term once in my story, when reminiscing about my days playing football.  I contemplated that for a brief bit, explained my feelings and reasoning to my editor, then declined to delete those references from my story.
     “Saranac Laker” even went so far as to post an online comment to my story insidiously suggesting that because I had made such references in a number of my other stories, that I was doing so intentionally with racist intent. Using the royal “we” he (she, it- I don’t know) implied he was speaking for all of Saranac Lake in that sentiment. For all I know the individual wasn’t even FROM Saranac Lake! For all I know “Saranac Laker” could really have just been some interloper chiming in from Alaska.
     “Hey there Richard! Saranac Lake changed its mascot a looong time ago because the old one was an offensive slur. We don’t use that word anymore. Looking at your archives, it seems like you stretch to use it as much as possible, but I ‘d really appreciate it if you’d avoid using it in the future.”
     For the record, any of that was the furthest thing from my mind. I was simply sharing reminiscences about my time playing Saranac Lake Redskins football. I do that sometimes when writing my stories, when it suits my narrative and purpose. It helps immediately connect me, my memories, my stories and my readers to that era.
     I’ve written over a hundred such stories, nearly fifty of them published over the past decade. I’ve made Saranac Lake Redskins football references in several of them, but not all. about twenty percent of my stories, with never a single comment or complaint until that moment. I explained all of that too, to my editor.   
     Folks who grew up in Saranac Lake, experienced high school sports wearing Saranac Lake Redskins jerseys, most of them know exactly what I am talking about. The Northern Athletic Conference was made up of some pretty fierce rivalries;

     The Tupper Lake Lumberjacks, Massena Red Raiders, Malone Huskies, Ogdensburg Blue Devils, Potsdam Sandstoners, Canton Golden Bears, St. Lawrence Larries, Gouverneur Wildcats, the Carthage Comets (they came into our conference for football my senior year), and of course, the Saranac Lake Redskins. 
     Those were the teams in our conference, my rivalries, my memories. Is it really to be expected that when sharing stories about athletics of that time period that it’s okay to use the terms “Lumberjacks” and “Red Raiders”, but not “Redskins”?! I, for one, don’t believe so.
     Of course, based on the photographic evidence, maybe I COULD refer to our football teams of that era as “The Saranac Lake Redskirts.”

     Did the National Football or Baseball Halls of Fame go back and purge “Washington Redskins” or “Cleveland Indians” from their archives once those names changed? I don’t think so.
     If someone asked Joe Theismann, John Riggins, or Bob Feller what team they played for during their careers, what would they do?  Whisper: “I’m not allowed to say that word.” I think not. That would be ridiculous.
     I went back and did some research. Many Saranac Lake High School yearbooks during that era have Saranac Lake Redskins related insignia emblazoned on their covers.

  I’m quite sure all of them contain many such references within. I’d bet a good nickel most Saranac Lake Alumni residences of that era have them sitting on their bookshelves. Not to mention Redskins letter jackets, pins, team photographs and memorabilia.

     Are folks expected to throw them away? Never speak of their memories? Simply erase a proud half century of Saranac Lake sports history? I don’t think that has happened. Nor should it.
     So, my story stood as written. I was under the impression that my editor agreed with and would honor my sentiments.
     I traveled back up to Saranac Lake for the last weekend of Winter Carnival. I wanted to see the parade. I reminisced my way up and back, as I always do. When I got home, I wrote another story about the experience, titled “Memory Lane”. I submitted it to my editor. They published it.
     However, when I read their version online, I noticed one small but key edit. In my version I had made a single “Redskins” football reference when relating a memory that floods back to me every time I drive through Tupper Lake. Without asking or notifying me in advance, they removed it.
      They didn’t ask, because they knew I had strong feelings on the issue, and what my answer would be. They had choices. They could have asked, notified, or discussed it with me before publishing. They could have simply chosen to not run the story. They didn’t choose any of those options. Instead, they succumbed to the pressures of Cancel Culture Censorship presented by a self-deputized “Saranac Laker”, who chose to take cowardly pot shots at me personally while hiding behind a tree of anonymity, and erased it.
     I had already told them that if they chose that course, I would find it difficult to continue writing for them. I gave them fair warning. They knew that well in advance. It might seem like a small matter to some folks. Those are my stories, my reminiscences, my cherished memories. It is no small matter to me.
     They don’t pay me for my stories. The rights to them are mine. At their behest, for the past year I have shared them with any of their readers who wish to read them, without any compensation or fee, free of charge.
     To be clear, I never asked for these cancel culture racist charges, this outstanding warrant. Saranac Lake voted to change its mascot in 2001. That happened twenty years after I graduated from high school, went off to college, entered the Army, and moved out of town. I’m not looking to turn back time.  It’s not an issue for me. It never was.

     I’m sure that today’s Saranac Lake High School community has developed their own sense of identity, tradition and pride around their athletes, mascot and team name, “The Saranac Lake Red Storm.”  I fully support that.
     It would be inappropriate for me, or anyone for that matter, to go to a Red Storm athletic contest and chant “Let’s Go Redskins!” I probably wouldn’t even wear my “Saranac Lake Redskins Alumni” sweatshirt or hoodie to a game. I save those for when I’m in camp, sharing memories with old classmates and friends.

     However, when they took that vote in 2001, I do not believe that vote included a vote to erase any further reference to “Saranac Lake Redskins” from the alumni lexicon.
     We are now in an era of cancel culture censorship. Syracuse has been engaged in a court battle over removing a Christopher Columbus statue from its square. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington have both become cancel culture targets.  I even read an article recently targeting Albert Einstein. Apparently, some cancel culture folks want to erase him too, all because he may have been a less than perfect husband and father.
     Cancel Culture Censorship is a slippery slope, and a dangerous one.  Ours is an imperfect union built by imperfect heroes. That does not in any way mean we should erase them.
    How far is it down that slope from censoring “Saranac Lake Redskins” references from my stories to Saranac Lake’s self-appointed cancel culture censorship constabulary going door to door, confiscating all the high school yearbooks, letter jackets and memorabilia, and having themselves a good old fashioned town square book burning bonfire?
     So, I thought about all of these things as I made my decisions. If we don’t stand for something, we stand for nothing. Our individual lives, memories, and stories become meaningless.
    I would far rather craft a small batch of “Wild Turkey Soup” for a select group of palates than throw together a watered down ten-gallon kettle of chicken soup for the masses.                                  
     As I said to my editor after this whole issue reached its nexus; “Life is choices. Your publication has clearly made theirs. I’ve made mine.”
     Life moves ever forward, as it well should. That does not negate the fact that nostalgic reminiscent memories continue to exist. Many folks still take pride in them. They have value.  The cancel culture censorship constabulary has no right or authority to erase them. I, for one, refuse to let them.
     I shall continue to make “Saranac Lake Redskins” football references in my stories where and when I deem appropriate.  Folks who don’t agree with that choice have a right to make a choice of their own. Simply don’t read my stories.   

So here I am, an Adirondack Outlaw, on the lam once again. Living in the day I am in, sharing life’s memories, staying true to myself.

A proud Saranac Lake Redskins alumnus, for as long as I live.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


Proud Saranac Lake High School


Redskins Football Alumnus

aka: “Monk”