Mascot mayhem

Posted: Aug 26, 2005 12:00 AM

     I grew up in a liberal, college town. The town was so liberal that it created mini-activists who went around inventing things to be offended by. One of those junior grievance-mongers chose the bulldog mascot as the object of his offense. The bulldog was a white cartoon canine with a red, spiked collar. His fierce, growling grin adorned the gym’s rafters, the football field, and the marquee out front.

     Can’t find anything to be offended by? Don’t worry, there are lefties all over who can help you. In this case, it was a creative ninth-grader. At the tender age of 14, he had perfected the art of fabricated outrage (maybe one of his parents taught the course at the University of North Carolina). He decided that the bulldog was offensive because his depiction was too aggressive. His spiked collar and beared teeth had violent connotations. This young man convinced the school administration it should file the cartoon’s fearsome fangs and take the spikes off his collar. Back in high school, we were thankful this young man didn’t play any sports. We were sure his athletic career would have ended inside a locker.

     Turns out, he was just warming up for a gig at the nation’s top sports association—the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is becoming the authority on manufactured outrage. On August 5, the NCAA announced that it would ban all schools with “hostile or abusive” Native American logos, mascots, and nicknames from hosting NCAA championship competition.

It may affect as many as 19 NCAA institutions whose recent self-studies on the Native American mascot issue did not satisfy concerns that some people could consider the use of the mascot or imagery hostile or abusive.

     Apparently “some people” means the NCAA itself. Or, maybe “some people” refers to a handful of self-appointed Native American activists and a whole lot of guilty, white liberals. 

     It doesn’t refer to the 81 percent of Native Americans who believe colleges and high schools should keep their Native American nicknames, according to a survey commissioned by Sports Illustrated. “Some people” doesn’t include the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which approved the clothing and makeup for Florida State’s mascot, the legendary Chief Osceola.

     “Some people” doesn’t include the respected Native American artist who drew the logo for the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux, nor does it probably include the hundreds of Native American students who have graduated from UND’s “Indians Into Medicine” and “Indians Into Aviation” programs.

     Chief Maynard Kahgegab of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is not one of  “some people.” In 2002, he signed a proclamation supporting Central Michigan University’s use of the Chippewa nickname.

     Florida State and North Dakota have appealed the NCAA’s decision, and Florida State has already been exempted. Central Michigan is following suit, and the Fighting Illini are weighing their options.  NCAA Vice President Bernard Franklin had this to say in the wake of Florida State’s successful appeal:

"The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe regarding how its name and image can be used must be respected, even if others may not agree."

     You think? If the NCAA is so worried about fostering sensitivity and avoiding hostility and abuse, here are a couple things for the association to think about.

     Perhaps assuming that all Native Americans are offended as one despite their varied heritages and histories is more bigoted than than the Utes’ use of a feather in their logo.

     Perhaps stepping in to act as protectors for sovereign nations of people who are capable of making their own agreements with local schools is more of a throwback than a Native American artist’s painting of a Fighting Sioux adorning the gym wall at UND.

     Perhaps making this decision without any knowledge of how individual tribes feel about their depictions is more ignorant than cheering the Fighting Illini.

     Perhaps subjecting the agreements of sovereign nations to review by a mere athletic association is more abusive than a Choctaws t-shirt.

     Maybe shielding white liberals from their guilt is less important when it means depriving regular Americans of a weekly dose of Native American heritage and history in the form of Chief Osceola, the Unconquered galloping the sidelines at ‘Noles games.

     And, maybe bestowing a Native American name upon a sports team that Americans of all ethnicities spend untold amounts of energy, money and emotion cheering isn’t always hostile and divisive.

     If you are an alumnus of one of the 19 schools affected by the NCAA’s broad ruling, I encourage you to ask their respective presidents to appeal the decision. The mascot issue is a gray one that should be left to individual tribes and schools to hash out. The NCAA should learn to listen more closely to its members—of all ethnicities—than to a bunch of liberal activists who likely cut their own teeth on such good deeds as filing down the fangs of cartoon dog mascots.

     The NCAA has shown itself to be more condescending, dismissive, and prejudiced when it comes to Native Americans than the folks who have spent years loving teams with Native American mascots. If there are problems, tribes and schools should work them out—not an athletic association that seems intent on playing a “Great Father” role that is more offensive than any mascot it’s trying to ban.

Listed below are the 19 schools whose mascots would be affected by the NCAA’s regulation, which goes into effect in February:

The 19 schools are (with nicknames) Alcorn State University (Braves); Arkansas State University (Indians); Bradley University (Braves); Central Michigan University (Chippewas); Carthage College (Redmen); Catawba College (Indians); Chowan College (Braves); Florida State University (Seminoles); the University of Illinois, Champaign (Illini); Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indians); the University of Louisiana at Monroe (Indians); McMurry University (Indians); Midwestern State University (Indians); Mississippi College (Choctaws); Newberry College (Indians); the University of North Dakota (Fighting Sioux); Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Savages); and the University of Utah (Utes). The College of William and Mary (Tribe) has been given an extension to complete its self-study on the mascot issue.

Mary Katharine Ham is Senior Writer & Associate Editor at