NCAA Native American Mascot Controversy

The world of intercollegiate athletics is an interesting stew to say the least.

It is a mixture of money, a smattering of egocentricity, a dash of concern for the student athlete, a yet smaller dash of perceived concern for said student athlete’s actual academic progress towards a degree and then brought together with a healthy dose of public perception and dare I say EVEN MORE MONEY.

Back in 2005, the NCAA decided that it would institute a new rule:

It self-decided (as a PR move I believe) it would strong-arm schools with nicknames or mascotsIT deemed “hostile or abusive”; they would no longer be allowed to keep these nicknames.

This was targeted at colleges and universities that were currently using a Native American derived name and/or symbols.

Most of these schools were small with no strong alumni bases or financial incentive to keep their respective name and made the change without any fanfare.

However, there were plenty of major universities that were presented with a proverbial pickle.

Schools such as Florida State (Seminoles), Utah (Utes), Illinois (Illini), and, to lesser extents, Central Michigan (Chippewa’s), Miami of Ohio (Redskins) and North Dakota (Sioux).

The first three schools are traditional football and basketball powerhouses whose revenue annually adds tens of millions to their athletic department coffers as well as hefty sums reaching the NCAA itself.

From the schools above, Miami has changed its name to “Redhawks” with little to no opposition; North Dakota is in the process of dropping “Sioux” after 81 years upon losing its final appeal to the NCAA after many years while Florida State, Utah, Illinois and Central Michigan have kept their names after receiving “waivers” from the NCAA by proving they (currently) have the blessing and written approval of those respective tribes (Seminole, Illini, Ute and Chippewa).

Ironically, these schools (save CMU) produce millions of dollars in athletic revenue through large gate attendance, huge TV contracts and merchandising. Even more “ironic” is the fact that the NCAA actually profits twofold.  It is giving the appearance on one hand of being thoughtful, respectful and politically correct while the other hand is taking fistfuls of dollars looking the other way. If they are going to enact any rule, then it should apply to all schools regardless of their circumstances. If not, then retract it.

The truth (in my opinion and millions of other fan-based polls) is that the NCAA should be involved in other things like policing an ever growing number of student athletes being arrested (some multiple times), making sure progress is made in the classroom and that graduation rates are strong (things it was actually set up to do in the first place).

Schools along with their alumni and communities should be able to decide for themselves what they want to be called. If a school thinks its current nickname is somehow offensive, then let it decide (such as Stanford University did in 1972 all by itself in dropping the nickname “Indians” in favor of “Cardinal”).

If a school has a relationship with a certain tribe and they mutually agree that the name is acceptable, again let them decide.  But to force schools to do what you want them to do and then go and break this rule yourself (as the NCAA is doing) AND then on top of that, still profit from it, this is ridiculous to say the least.

A final footnote to this article.

One school (the University of Iowa) has even gone a step further in this. They have now decided that they themselves will also police the ranks and will no longer schedule a school to any athletic event that still carries a Native American name and its most recent victim was the University ofNorth Dakota.

Even though again UND is in the process of dropping the “Sioux” nickname, this is still not enough for the Iowa Hawkeye higher-ups. So, a potential track meet between the schools was recently cancelled.

Yet another “irony” is that Iowa plays in the same conference (the wealthy Big 10) as Illinois(Illini) and they meet in every NCAA sanctioned sport, every year.

FYI Iowa “enlightened” brass:  the term “Hawkeye” originally appeared in the novel, “The Last of the Mohicans” written by James Fenimore Cooper. In the book, the character named Natty Bumppo is given the word “Hawkeye” as a nickname from the Delaware Indians.

Maybe the university should consider beefing up its own literature and history departments. Talk about hypocrites!!!

Fortunately, I graduated from a university where this was not an issue.

Our mascot was a feisty chicken bred for cock-fighting to entertain soldiers during the American Revolutionary War.

OOPPS, maybe I spoke to soon. Let’s hope the NCAA and PETA don’t read this……………………shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  • deb

    My ancestors lived for generations in the
    shadows of the Brothertown Indian Reservation. 
    As a child I heard their stories about relatives, friends and life in
    the community.  However I was very
    confused because I could never see traces to this existence that they
    discussed?  Eventually I stopped caring
    about finding traces.  I determined that
    no one cared about this past.  It must be
    irrelevant.

     

    The first time I finally found any traces of
    caring was years later, when I went to the University of Illinois.  I experienced “The Chief “.  His presence was
    honored and revered.  You see at the
    University of Illinois, we held sacred our past.  We built our library underground to make
    certain we did not loose the Morrow Plots, the oldest experimental cornfield in
    the Western Hemisphere.  And we honored
    the memory of our Illinois original forefathers in our pride and reverence for
    the Chief.  The unspoken message was that
    at the University of Illinois the past mattered and if the past mattered then
    our lives mattered also.  We may have had
    room for improvement in our memory but at least we remembered.

     

    But now that is destroyed. 
    The NCAA has apparently made certain that no one cares about the memory
    of the past.  The future student body will
    never experience this blessing from the past.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TamiRoberson Tamera FishelRoberson

    This whole farce is ridiculous.  If the Native Americans themselves object, then it’s one thing.  If they have no problem with it…then what in the heck is the problem.  One would think that to have their culture admired so much for their strength of character (or whatever) wouldn’t have an issue, but if they do, then they do, and in my opinion, they have the right to object, to request and receive a name change by said team or affiliation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-Wood/100000495900042 Rick Wood

    It sounds like someone escaped the Stanford campus and went to work at the NCAA to tell us what to do because they think they know it all or at least much more than the rest of us. The politically correct police must have an office next to the NCAA and in the section of the library on tolerance.

    I can see it now. Let’s change the University of Illinois mascot to the Fighting Ills, or how sick can one be and still claim to be alive. Or, how about the University of Utah changing its name from the Runnin’ Utes to the Running Mormons (for President). Even though Mitt Romney graduated from Brigham Young University.

    How about the Mighty Chippewa’s of Central Michigan, we’ll just go along with there new name, the Once mighty, but now fallen, splinters, piles of sawdust and chips of wood. 

  • Jljedraper

    I think this sports nickname stuff should not be limited to the NCAA institutions of higher learning (graduation rate of scholarship athletes notwithstanding). I am a twin and cannot believe that MBL doesn’t fine, sanction, disband, do something about the Minnesota TWINS!

  • chief98110

    Great look at the craziness of political correctness in college athletics . As a Native American who grew up when it wasn’t cool to be native, it’s all I can do not to throw up with this BS.
    I’d like to meet the people who are truly offended by a team with a native name. I’ve be called worst growing up, as a wise man once said, “man-up”.

  • Dstover

    Darn right I’m a Gamecock!

    you joke about PETA that is really no joke, while folks here in SC don’t give animal rights much thought beyond the “right to be barbequed” There has been mention from PETA regarding the proud Gamecock as an undesirable mascot. In reality any animal mascot is undesirable to PETA.

    • Neil1981

      Hi Dstover,
      Thank you for your comment.
      Yes, I have since read about the Gamecock nickname controversy and of course support South Carolina.
      I am a Delaware “Fightin” Blue Hen so we are birds of a common feather so to speak.
      As far as I know PETA has not made any raucous demands at UD. Perhaps because it is a smaller school?
      Trust me, Delaware fans are as rabid and loyal as they come and would never change their name.

      • DStover

         Neil, thanks for replying to all of these comments its nice to know you care what we think.

  • G. E. McCulley

    As a Trojan I am truly shocked, shocked that anyone would doubt the honor and veracity of the NCAA. They treat everyone fairly and equally without any bias or corruption. By the way I have just been named the agent for the sale of the Brooklyn Bridge…anybody want to buy a bridge?

    • Neil1981

      Hi G.E.,
      Thank you for your comment.
      Well said.

  • Mike

    I have to weigh in again on this. The entire time the NCAA has attempted to change the The University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux logo, they, the NCAA, sold Fighting Sioux apparel on their website with the logo. Really though, how does Cam Newton’s dad get away with trying to sell his son’s services to the highest bidding university while the NCAA battles a logo that the enitre state of North Dakota (including Native Americans) wants. Again, other than our own government, the NCAA is the most corrupt organization that exists in the US.

    • Nancye

      Again, other than our own government, the NCAA is the most corrupt organization that exists in the US.

      ***************************

      A lot of people I know – including me – would agree with that!

    • Neil1981

      Hi again Mike,
      Agreed.
      As mentioned in my article: The NCAA on one hand telling others what to do and appearing to be politically correct while the other hand collects the cash.

  • Rick Johnson

    I also thought Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois should change their nickname from Braves to “Chickens”. They get pressured by Indian groups because of the name, all the time. Imagine an Indian not wanting to be referred to as ‘brave’! Just more leftist PC nonsense.

  • Nancye

    Ron F
    March 13, 2012 | 12:59 pm

    Nice article.
    (((I disagree with “the NCAA should be involved in other things . . . .” The NCAA is involved in those other things and has instituted new rules regarding grade point averages and I think graduation rates.)))

    The fact that the NCAA polices the names of mascots does not mean that it cannot, or that it does not, do the other things. The same argument could be made that we should be concerned with issues that are more important than the names of college mascots and the NCAA. I agree that the policy is silly and hypocritical. The NCAA is in the primary business of making the most money for the NCAA and, in fact, has been quite successful at it.

    ***********************

    What does a mascot nickname have to do with academics? Nothing!!! How does it hurt the college/university? It doesn’t! Why is somebody always trying to make waves where they’re not needed.

    In my not-so-humble opinion anyone connected with a school who has an Indian (yes, I’m saying Indian) mascot and name should be proud. To me that’s honoring said Indian/Indians/or tribe.

    The university I attended unfortunately doesn’t. The University of Alabama is referred to as The Crimson Tide and it’s mascot is an elephant. Go tell that to the naysayers. Id like to see them try to stop that!!!

    • Neil1981

      Hi Nancye,
      Thank you for your comment.
      Agreed. A nickname has nothing to do with academics and (in my opinion) does not hurt a school. If anything, it helps bring awareness to the institution.

  • Terry Walbert

    It would have been wonderful if Florida State would have told the NCAA to go “F” themselves. I bet the NCAA would have backed down.

    Perhaps other schools should boycott the Hawkeyes.

    • Nancye

      Hahahaha – I bet so too.

      • Neil1981

        Hi Terry,
        Thank you for your comment.
        I agree, FSU could have told the NCAA to go….well you know AND probably could have gotten away with it.
        FSU has incredible fans, alumni and support.

  • Ron F

    Nice article. I disagree with “the NCAA should be involved in other things . . . .” The NCAA is involved in those other things and has instituted new rules regarding grade point averages and I think graduation rates. The fact that the NCAA polices the names of mascots does not mean that it cannot, or that it does not, do the other things. The same argument could be made that we should be concerned with issues that are more important than the names of college mascots and the NCAA. I agree that the policy is silly and hypocritical. The NCAA is in the primary business of making the most money for the NCAA and, in fact, has been quite successful at it.

    • Neil1981

      Hi Ron,
      Thank you for your comment.
      I agree, the NCAA is good at one thing: Making money.
      I also realize the NCAA does other things as well.
      Setting a policy for nickname use should not be one of them though (in my opinion).
      On a positive note as you mention, graduation rates are up for all student athletes but football and basketball rates continue to lag behind those figures.
      On a negative note:
      A 6 month study done last year by Sports Illustrated/ CBS News concluded that more 200 players at the nations top 25 college football programs had criminal records and that the University of Pittsburgh alone had 23.5% of its player roster with a criminal record. That is appalling.
      Granted that about a third of these crimes were nuisance crimes, but the remaining 2/3 were of violent and property in nature.
      The NCAA really needs to address this serious issue.

  • Mike

    Great article Mr. Kline. There is a huge push in the state of North Dakota to keep the name. Most of it is coming from the Native Americans themselves. In fact the North Dakota Supreme Court is hearing the case this thursday (3-15) brought on by the North Dakota board of higher ed because backers of the Fighting Sioux nickname have the required amount of signatures to bring make it a referendum on the next election. I am amazed every day that the NCAA thinks they know what is best for Native Americans.

    • Neil1981

      Hi Mike,
      Thank you for your comments.
      Yes, the university is between a rock and a hard place with the NCAA on one hand telling them to drop the name or else forfeit future contests in all sports and on the other hand, the state law requiring the use of the name. Certainly unique.
      The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe has now sued the NCAA to have the Sioux name reinstated. Good for them and UND for their continued fight. I hope they can retain the Fighting Sioux name. I realize some members of the Spirit Lake tribe and Standing Rock tribe differ on the use of the name but that is my point in the article, let the university, the tribe, the city of Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota decide for themselves without being told what to do by the NCAA.