It is September and that means time for sports fans to talk college football, new coaches, returning starters, injury reports, defensive schemes and the chances of making a bowl game. Not so fast, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the institution that oversees college sports, has more pressing issues on its mind, like eliminating Native American nicknames or imagery from nation's college campuses. Three years ago there were 80 colleges with Native American related names, now there are 18, the goal is zero -- and this from a national organization headquartered in INDIANanpolis, INDIANa. As Charlie Brown would say, "AAARRRRGGHHH!"
Don't confuse the NCAA for a democratic, majority-ruled organization. Despite its heritage and great mission, the NCAA is now saddled with the heavy burden of political correctness. It is rife with small agenda specific factions, schooled in the language of guilt, victim-hood and sensitivity seeking to impose their agenda on the many. Some have called it the "tyranny of the few." Government and academic institutions seem especially susceptible to the whims of such P.C. groups.
The policy statement issued August 5th prohibits "NCAA colleges and universities from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships." Now no reasonable person will argue in favor of inflammatory words like hostile and abusive but after using such terms the document makes no effort to further define abusive or hostile or offer any evidence that the 18 listed colleges have ever displayed such behavior. The document goes on the say, "Model institutions include the University of Iowa and University of Wisconsin, who have practices of not scheduling athletic competitions with schools who use Native American nicknames, imagery or mascots."
The target list of 18 includes tribe and chief specific names such as Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chief Illiniwek, and it goes on to include generic names such as Braves. By what tortured logic is Braves an abusive or hostile name? Has there been a more noble figure and role model to stride across the field as a Brave than Alcorn University's Steve McNair? Perhaps Hank Aaron or Warren Spahn. Abusive? Hostile? Only in the eyes of their opponents.
College mascots came on the scene a century ago as football began its ascendancy to the top of the college sports scene. Many mascots were selected because of traits needed to succeed in such a tough and combative sport. Other noteworthy Type A mascots include: "Fighting Irish," "Fighting Methodists," "Fighting Parsons," "Fighting Koalas," "Fighting Blue Hens," "Fighting Pickles," "Battling Bishops," "Battlin Bears," and of course the greatly feared "Fighting Okra."
The NCAA Executive Committee would do well to consider the more reasonable and rational course of action taken by the U.S. Army, an institution whose shared history with Native Americans covers the full spectrum from hostility, to abuses, to peaceful, to mutual respect, to fellow combatants in arms. It is a remarkable journey from Little Big Horn to Pima tribe member Ira Hayes raising the American flag on Iwo Jima.
When the helicopter came on the scene in the 1960s the Army began naming new helicopter models after Indian tribes. That tradition was formalized into policy in 1969 with AR (Army Regulation) 70-28.
The naming process begins with the commanding general of U.S. Army Aviation Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. He has a list of candidate names cleared by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The criteria are straightforward: the name should relate to the mission of the aircraft, appeal to the imagination, not sacrifice dignity, suggest an aggressive spirit and engender confidence in the capability of the aircraft. They also had to suggest mobility, firepower and endurance. Qualities not dissimilar to those you wish your team on the athletic field. Anyone who has followed the U.S. military over the past 40 years knows that combat chopper pilots are some of the bravest folks you will ever come across.
Because of this great tradition names such as Black Hawk, Chinook, Iroquois, Kiowa and Comanche are part of the everyday lexicon of America's military. To today's G.I. they conjure up images of vigilance, support, readiness and lastly, during times of great peril, the life saving hope of rescue.
Mascots are a small slice of Americana but they are important reminders and bonds to our history, our culture and to the institutions we hold dear. To pitch them aside in the quest for a perfection of sensitivity and un-offense is take a treacherous step towards a bland and timid culture ill suited for the land of the free and the home of the BRAVE.
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