The Athletic Reporter
September 12, 2005 Sports News the Way You Want It. Completely Made Up. Issue 127
 
The Average Mulder
by Joe Mulder
What's In a Name?

The NCAA recently announced that it will prohibit the use or display of "hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships" starting February 1. What they're really doing, of course, is dredging up and old non-issue regarding the use of Native American mascots and iconography in sports, as the headline of the NCAA's own press release admits. Of the 18 nicknames the NCAA picked out, all of them are Native American.

Check that: all of them are associated, either broadly (Indians, Braves) or specifically (Chippewas, Utes), with tribes that had a beef with Whitey. The NCAA has no problem with the San Diego State Aztecs; I guess if the people who conquered you were sufficiently swarthy, you get a pass. After all, no one ever talks about sticking it to El Hombre.

Am I overreacting? Sure. Is it a silly argument? Maybe. But is it any sillier than considering the mascot, nickname and imagery of Florida State to be "hostile and abusive" when the Seminole Tribe of Florida has endorsed their use? Even Ute tribe member and executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs Forrest Cuch, who supports the "spirit and intent" of the new policy, concedes that the University of Utah uses its "Utes" nickname respectfully.

Never mind all that, the NCAA says. One group of people might not find the names offensive, but they don't speak for everybody. Well, unfortunately for the NCAA, a lot of people these days have access to the internet, so I can point you to this article about a 2002 Sports Illustrated poll revealing that 81% of Native American respondents said "no" when asked if high school and college teams should stop using Indian nicknames. For professional teams, the figure rose to 83%. And that horrible Tomahawk Chop that the Atlanta Braves use? Of the 51% that even care about it at all, more than half like it!

They don't care!

(well, obviously some of them do, but, most of them don't, and I think that's the salient point)

And we haven't even gotten to the best part yet. The part the NCAA hopes doesn't occur to you. The part that shows how really, really full of it they are. Are you ready for that part? Should we get to that part? Okay...

Notre Dame.

Notre Dame! Are you kidding me? Does the NCAA honestly expect us to believe that this is less offensive, bothersome and disrespectful than this?

But Notre Dame people don't care, and you can't impress your liberal friends by expressing regret and sadness over how this country treated the Irish (which was plenty regretful and sad, but, the Irish Americans are doing fine now, so you won't get anywhere with that), so we crusade (ooh, did I say "Crusade?" Maybe Valpo and Holy Cross should have to change their names, too. Or don't we care about offending Muslims? I guess that word is only offensive when President Bush uses it) against Indian nicknames -- which a vast majority of actual Indians have said, in no uncertain terms, don't bother them -- because we're the only country in history whose formation resulted in a population of people being displaced. Oh, wait a minute: we're not! If Icelanders want to claim the moral high ground on that one, I'll listen; otherwise: shut up.

Look, when I take off the Ugly American hat and the Red State pants, I have no problem telling you that yes, the Native American experience in this country has been tragic and inexcusable, and that even today there are particular difficulties facing the continent's indigenous people. It's not even something I can begin to appreciate or empathize with (though I tend to pass by the "white guilt" aisle at the supermarket without adding anything to my cart, as my people were in Europe at the time). What's more, if I ran a college with an Indian nickname, I'd probably see what I could do about changing it, since I'm of the opinion that if you can avoid offending people (even if those people are a tiny but incessantly vocal minority) you should go ahead and try to do that if it's not too much trouble. Just to be nice.

But you can't force niceness, and you can't legislate it.

Just don't try to convince the NCAA.
Joe Mulder
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