Use of Indian Mascots Coming to an End For College Teams
Some schools say NCAA is dictating social policy
By Ibram Rogers and Frank J. Matthews
The debate over the use of American Indian imagery in college sports is coming to a head as the National Collegiate Athletic Association this spring makes its final decisions on the pleas of several schools wanting to keep their long-held nicknames and mascots.
Half of the 19 colleges the NCAA cited for nicknames deemed “hostile or abusive” to American Indians when it instituted its new policy remain on the list, some defiantly vowing to fight to keep their long-held nicknames. The rest have changed their names or won approval to use their names from American Indian tribes within their states.
Schools had until Feb. 1 to appeal the NCAA’s decision, which forced programs to change their team names, mascots and logos immediately or risk being banned from hosting and participating in NCAA tournaments. The holdout institutions face the prospects of losing the money, exposure and potential championships usually gained from participation in postseason play.
Alcorn State University, the lone HBCU affected by the policy, and Arkansas State University did not submit appeals by deadline. Alcorn State had already dropped the adjective “Scalping” from its former nickname “Scalping Braves” several years ago, but now the NCAA wants it to drop the “Braves” nickname as well.
The University of North Dakota, whose appeal was recently denied by the NCAA, is considering legal options and has enlisted the help of the state board of higher education and the North Dakota Attorney General in its fight to keep the “Fighting Sioux” as its nickname.
“We are not only disappointed by the NCAA’s action, we are baffled by it,” says UND President Charles Kupchella. “We will continue to take issue with the fact that the policy is illegitimate and that it has been applied to UND inappropriately and in an arbitrary and capricious manner.”
Officials at the University of Illinois, whose appeal to keep Chief Illiniwek as a mascot was denied, are unhappy with the ruling, but it isn’t clear what their next step will be. The university, whose nickname is the “Fighting Illini,” has accused the NCAA of “dictating social policy” and of impeding school autonomy.
“It’s the university, not the NCAA, that is hurting the athletics because the [school] chooses to maintain a racist mascot instead of dealing with the issue and giving the athletics the ability to host post-season play,” says Jen Tayabji, co-coordinator of Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative, which has worked to ban the Chief Illiniwek image since 1989.
The College of William and Mary, known as the “Tribe,” recently had their appeal denied by the NCAA, as has Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After the appeal was denied, IUP assembled a task force that intends to generate feedback from the community about changing the nickname. A decision is expected next spring.
The ruling on IUP likely means that appeals currently under review — those of Catawba College, McMurry University and Newberry College — will be denied. All these schools share IUP’s nickname: the Indians.
Four institutions were allowed to keep their nicknames — Central Michigan University, Florida State University, Mississippi College and the University of Utah. All four institutions successfully appealed the policy by providing the NCAA with written endorsements from American Indian “namesake” groups in their respective states. UND’s appeal was denied largely because they didn’t receive such an endorsement.
Bradley University, in Peoria, Ill., also was able to keep its “Braves” nickname upon a successful appeal because it showed that the name was not in reference to American Indians, but to positive qualities such as honor, courage, tenacity and loyalty. Nevertheless, the NCAA is placing Bradley on a five-year watch list, during which time the NCAA will “work with the school to assure that circumstances do not change,” according to a NCAA statement.
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