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Off the court, Joey Craigue has a purpose, too

  • Joey Craigue referees a game between one of his Cap City Basketball league teams and a Suncook Athletics team at the Bishop Brady High School gym on Dec. 27. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Joey Craigue dribbles the ball during a time out while refereeing a game between one of his Cap City Basketball league teams and a Suncook Athletics team at the Bishop Brady High School gym on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Joey Craigue referees a game between one of his Cap City Basketball league teams and a Suncook Athletics team at the Bishop Brady High School gym on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Joey Craigue congratulates players after a game between one of his Cap City Basketball league teams and a Suncook Athletics team at the Bishop Brady High School gym on Dec. 27. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor Staff

  • Joey Craigue shoots some baskets during a time out while refereeing a game between one of his Cap City Basketball league teams and a Suncook Athletics team at the Bishop Brady High School gym on Dec. 27. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Joey Craigue referees a game between one of his Cap City Basketball league teams and a Suncook Athletics team at the Bishop Brady High School gym on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Monday, January 23, 2017

The local jock from a family of well-known jocks doesn’t fit the mold.

At least not the kind we see in the movies and on TV. Not even close.

Sure, Joey Craigue still loves sports, breathes sports, eats sports like Fred Flintstone chomping on a brontoburger. He coaches basketball year-round, plays basketball professionally during summers in China and dribbles a basketball as though it had a string attached.

But there’s more here. Non-jock stuff. Stuff about social awareness and sensitivity toward a particular minority, a minority that’s long been stereotyped as bloodthirsty, red-faced, aggressive and mean.

Sort of like I stereotyped Craigue. The jock, I presumed, who has no interest in the world around him. But he does. You can’t compartmentalize Native Americans, and you can’t compartmentalize jocks, either.

“Man, this is such a strong history, so why do we want to alienate these people on their lands where they’ve been raising their children for thousands of years?” Craigue told me recently. “Why does your mascot have to hurt someone? There are so many great mascots, so many great animals, so many great names that you can be proud of and it does not have to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

You know where this is going. Craigue, who’s 32, doesn’t like using school names or mascots or logos of Indigenous People to represent school spirit. Redskins is out of bounds, he says, and Red Raiders should be banned as well.

Craigue finds it offensive. He’s spoken to Native Americans who find it offensive. And he thinks you should find it offensive, too. He’d like to make a documentary on the subject expressing his passion, shaking things up, opening some eyes.

He says his belief system comes from his ongoing basketball career, which includes local camps and clinics, AAU tournaments and a pro career for one month each summer in China.

Out in California, where Craigue attended high school in the early 2000s, he passed the ball to black teammates and they passed it back. He played games in front of their families and friends, hung out with them after games. His skin color – and theirs – took on less and less significance, until it meant nothing at all.

“I really think basketball has been such a good thing for humanity,” Craigue said. “Maybe because I was the only white person in the gym at Los Angeles clinics. There might be four white people in a gym of 1,000 black people, so it’s about getting a whole melting pot on the floor, and we hug each other after the game. Just beautiful.”

He grew up in a very white city in a very white state. The Craigue family always showed unmatched athleticism. Kenny Craigue, whose amateur sports career ended 15 years ago because of a brain injury suffered in a fall, was a dominant area basketball player in the 1970s.

His kids have topped that. Nate was drafted in the 24th round by the Minnesota Twins in 1994. Becky was an All-America field hockey player at the University of New Hampshire, plus a two-time captain later in the ‘90s. Sarah also starred in field hockey at UNH and was named the America East Offensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2008.

And then there was Joey, the quirky, friendly kid with the long-range jump shot and golly-gee smile.

“We noticed,” Becky, now 39 and living in Concord, said when asked if her little brother showed unique tendencies growing up. “From the beginning we noticed. We always said he was a big fish in a little sea, and we didn’t know what he was going to do, but we knew he was going to do something big.

“He’s passionate in everything he does,” Becky continued. “He’s the most passionate person I’ve ever noticed.”

Joey’s passion centered on basketball and remains there today. He played high school ball at Mission Prep in San Luis Obispo, Calif., then college ball at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Somewhere along the way, his thoughts drifted to the plight of Indigenous People. When, exactly, is hard to pinpoint, but the respect-seeking Native American voice has been largely a whisper compared to other minorities. That pushed Craigue.

“Like other Americans I was saying, ‘It doesn’t affect me, I’m not an Indian,’” Craigue told me. “I’ve always been conscious, but never to a point where I wanted to speak up for them. I met so many great people because of basketball, white, black, orange, purple, or brown, and they’re all great people.”

After college Craigue came home and now works for a roofing company, but his bread and butter comes from Cap City Basketball, a Concord-based program that features clinics, inclusion in competitive tournaments, camps and one-on-one drills.

Public relations is vital to his success, and Craigue bounced back and forth when it came to publicizing his feelings. He suggested I write something because the team-name issue is nationwide and gaining traction.

I convinced him to play an integral part in framing the column, and while hesitant, Craigue later agreed. Then he backed out.

Then he said okay.

His hesitancy surfaced after he contacted a Rochester woman named Renee Napolitano, who had tried to change the nickname at Spaulding High School from Red Raiders to something more innocuous.

Napolitano brought good intentions and a heaping dose of naivette into her effort. The town and school administration pushed her aside, though, and she said that some pretty awful and threatening comments were directed her way.

“I thought with my impulsive nature I could change it overnight,” Napolitano told me by phone. “I had no idea what kind of response I’d get. Maybe two people spoke out in favor of me, but I got slammed.”

“Is that what I’m going to get?” Craigue wondered, while shifting back and forth over going public. “Just for trying to fight for someone’s rights? I know I’m going to make a lot of enemies on this. You can see why I’m kind of nervous about it.”

Yet he remains resolute and passionate. Determined to get his point across, he hardly touched his chicken nuggets or fries as we spoke recently at a local fast-food restaurant.

Earlier he had contacted Paul Pouliot of Alton, the leader for the Cowasuck band of Pennacook-Abenaki people. Maybe Pouliot could help Craigue produce his documentary. Maybe Pouliot could add context and perspective.

Pouliot appreciated Craigue’s effort, telling me, “Red Raiders suggests brutality, but history is never written by us. If you want to honor us, think about how you’re honoring us with those depictions. We have to draw the line with Red Raiders.”

Pouliot added that he knows of no Native American who likes the school mascot idea. “Never met an indigenous person who said, ‘We think it’s great for our identification,’” he said.

But Pouliot also said that he’s careful to pick his battles. He wants a children’s museum that accurately portrays history and culture. He’s fighting Northern Pass, showing his respect for the land.

“I don’t want to discourage him,” Pouliot said. “But he has to understand that the willingness of the community has to be behind it.”

There are signs. Merrimack Valley changed its name from the Indians to the Pride, and it’s the Coe-Brown Bears now, not the Comanches.

But Spaulding remains the Red Raiders. So does Belmont High, despite recent rumblings over there that later faded from view.

Craigue wants to change that, change a prejudicial image. And while he’s at it, he’s changing his own image, too.

The one about the jock. The blind jock.

“I just want communities to be a little more accepting,” Craigue said. “A little more accepting to everybody in general.”