Attending a school where race relations and diversity are staples of the university mantra, Temple students understand and appreciate the need to be sensitive to people’s gender and ethnicity. In today’s world, it is important to be conscious of everyone’s background and not promote racism or sexism.
But sometimes the need for political correctness can turn downright ridiculous.
Such is the case with the NCAA’s policy regarding the use of Native American imagery for school mascots. In early August, the NCAA Executive Committee ruled that schools were prohibited from “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames, or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.”
Effective Feb. 1, 2006, any school that doesn’t change its offensive name will not be allowed to host championship events.
The policy targeted 18 schools, including such athletically-accomplished institutions as Florida State University (Seminoles), the University of Utah (Utes), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Fighting Illini), and the University of North Dakota (Fighting Sioux). Some of these institutions have gone to the courtroom to fight their case, saying their nicknames are not abusive, but pay homage to the tribes that hail from those schools’ current locations.
In cases in which institutions reached agreements with local tribes, the NCAA backpedaled on its policy. Utah, Central Michigan (Chippewas) and Florida State were therefore allowed to keep their mascots. North Dakota was not so lucky.
Last week, an NCAA review committee rejected the school’s appeal because it did not have the backing of three federally-recognized Sioux tribes. According the UND president Charles Kupchella, the school has the tribe’s permission to use the name. Even the logo, Kupchella said, was designed by a Native American.
The gray area only continued when the name “Warriors” was deemed OK but “Braves” was not. In addition, Alcorn State (Miss.) University, Bradley (Ill.) University, and Chowan (N.C.) College are forced to change their Braves mascots, but the Braves of the University of North Carolina-Pembroke received an exemption because of their high percentage of American Indian students.
Frankly, there is more gray area to this policy than meets the eye.
The NCAA has taken a lot of flack for its bungling of key issues, and this is no different. While the potential offensive nature of Native Americans as mascots has been debated for some time, the NCAA could have gone about this in a different way.
Before enacting a policy, the NCAA should have sat down with schools and the tribes they represent to see if there was even a problem.
Of the schools the NCAA has targeted, only one has a name that would understandably evoke connotations of disrespect: the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savages. The other schools have a strong heritage of cooperating with shifts in social opinion. Utah changed its name once before. Marquette changes its mascot from the Warrior to the Golden Eagles and St. John’s changed from the Redmen to the Red Storm out of the realization that they were offensive and no longer personified the school.
If all these name changes go through, what’s next? Will the NCAA sanction the Miami Hurricanes and Tulsa Golden Hurricane because they might upset people whose lives have been destroyed by the recent storms?
Where is the line drawn? Is the Irish-American community going to come down on Notre Dame any time soon?
Also, how do the Hawaii Warriors get off scott-free? Do the Native Americans have to be from the continental United States?
What does the North Carolina-Pembroke Braves’ exemption say about racism? What if a historically black school has a mascot that was found demeaning to blacks, and the school kept it? Imagine the firestorm over that.
Racism is a social evil that needs to be dealt with. But this policy lands far from healing society’s wounds. Instead of putting its foot down, the NCAA has placed it in a familiar spot: its mouth.
Greg Otto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.