What’s in a name on the college level
September 22, 2005
Another college sports year is well underway with the powerful but controversial National Collegiate Athletic Association forever imposing its will on our country’s universities.
This year the self-absorbed NCAA decided to attack the very touchy subject of American Indian nicknames and mascots. The NCAA targeted 18 schools deemed to have culturally “abusive” nicknames and “hostile” mascots, prohibiting their use in postseason tournaments and banning those universities from hosting future NCAA tournament games.
The most notable university to appeal this decision was the Florida State Seminoles. Citing a close bond with the Seminole people, Florida State considered the accusation of being “hostile” and “abusive” to be outrageous and insulting. Florida State claimed pride from being associated with the “unconquered” spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and for years has had their mascot’s wardrobe authentically designed by the Seminole Tribe. Florida State has been removed from the NCAA’s list despite support for the ban from the Oklahoma Seminole Tribe.
Utah and Central Michigan were the next universities to be allowed to use their nicknames, but only after also going through an appeals process and proving a longtime relationship with the Ute and Chippewa tribes. The North Carolina-Pembroke Braves were exempted because more than 20 percent of their students are American Indians. Most of the schools on the list do not have the time, money, power or desire to fight the NCAA or develop sufficient relationships with the tribes, so they are still subject to the ban.
Surprisingly, in spite of constant support from tribes, large universities such as Illinois and North Dakota appear to still be on the list. Perhaps that is because the NCAA feels the nicknames of Fighting Illini and Fighting Sioux depict negative images. If so, then the Notre Dame Fighting Irish should also have been targeted.
The feeling here is that since the NCAA never even defined their words “hostile” and “abusive” to the universities, then it is overstepping its boundaries in these cases.
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Although this is a national political issue, cooperation has already been achieved at local levels, such as in the cases of Florida State, Utah and Central Michigan. Let the school and Native Americans from that area have an equal say, and if the Native Americans are OK with the nickname and mascot, then that should be good enough for everyone else.
Powerful white people have always told Native Americans how to feel and what’s good for them, but now it’s time for the NCAA to back off and let the right people make the decisions. Only if there is a conflict between the two sides should the NCAA step in to help resolve it.
If the NCAA is really bent on banning nicknames, it should start by eliminating those named after devastating storms. As everyone would agree lately, a hurricane is nothing to cheer about. Having teams named after natural disasters is insensitive to the millions of people affected by them, and disrespectful to the thousands who have lost family and friends. Using the NCAA’s example, the Miami Hurricanes, Tulsa Golden Hurricane and Iowa State Cyclones would be “hostile” or “abusive” names.