That's why the National Collegiate Athletic Association passed a new rule saying college teams with Indian names and mascots cannot participate in NCAA championship events. "We believe hostile or abusive nicknames are troubling to us and it can't continue," said Walter Harrison, the NCAA committee chairman. "We're trying to send a message, very strongly, saying that these mascots are not appropriate for NCAA championships."
Hmmm? Teams can still have Indian mascots, but only if they're not going to be champions. That's the silent bigotry of low expectations!
The Florida State University Seminoles have caught a good bit of the controversy because of their successful football program. The school's mascot troubles the NCAA brass, whose sensibilities apparently outweigh the resolution in support of the team's name passed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Or consider the University of Illinois's Fighting Illini. The Illini tribe is the state's namesake. Protestors say the team's name is disrespectful and should be changed. But would that be enough? Shouldn't the name of the state be changed while we're at it?
The University of North Carolina-Pembroke is the Braves, which is usually a "hostile and abusive" name according to the new NCAA rule. But the school is exempted because more than 20 percent of students are American Indians. Wait a second . . . doesn't that mean that more than 20 percent of the student body must be deeply offended and humiliated by the Indian mascot?
What am I missing?
Oh, enough politics. I just like sports. I want to watch the game on TV. And, frankly, offend as few people as possible. So, for goodness sake, please change the names of teams like The Savages of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Is the name Savages really such a tough call? It would be the polite thing to do.
And please do something about the NFL's Washington Redskins. I'm as offended by their name as I am by their pitiful play in recent years. Clearly, if any city should not feature an Indian mascot, Washington is that city. It's not just that politicians in Washington used to lie and cheat the Indians. (After all, they still haven't unscrambled all those misplaced Indian Trust Fund accounts.) It's also that they lie and cheat to the rest of us, too.
But on the other hand, how is a name like the Chiefs or the Braves offensive? Braves are good, right? They're brave, that's for certain. How can anyone equate the obvious hero-worship of some names with the more tasteless denigrating names of others? How can they equate the Seminoles and the Braves with the Redskins and the Savages? If civilization is in the business of making the right distinctions, why can't some people make any distinctions at all?
Of course, in the end, I'm not an Indian; I only pretended to be one as a kid. I cannot speak for what they think and feel.
So, how do Native Americans see it? The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Election Survey in 2004 asked 768 randomly selected Indians (in the continental 48 states) if they found Indian mascots "demeaning." Overwhelmingly, they did not. For example, only 9 percent were offended by the Washington Redskins moniker.
If Native Americans, and not just liberal political activists, actually wanted an end to sports imagery involving Indians — if, in their eyes, such depictions belittled their culture and offended their sensibilities — then I'd hope they would find success. But I'd still miss the imagery, because I see Indians as proud and noble. As heroes and not merely as victims.