A North Dakota judge will hear arguments next month in a case of political correctness that has embroiled the state university for a number of years.
In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced a complete ban on hosting post-season competition by 18 colleges that were using Indian mascots, logos or nicknames. The ban was to become effective in February 2006.
The NCAA made an assumption, jumped to a conclusion and adopted the politically correct viewpoint that using Indian heritage in such a manner was “hostile and abusive.” The problem, it appears, is that no one bothered to check with the assumed aggrieved parties to determine if they were truly offended. Since the original announcement, the NCAA’s political correctness offensive encountered the stiff defense of several universities and common sense.
The college sports governing body backed off its strident and absolute demand after learning that some Native American groups endorsed use of their tribal names by their adoptive schools. The NCAA relented and gave the go-ahead for Florida State, the University of Utah and Central Michigan University to continue using Seminole, Ute, and Chippewa, respectively, without the risk of facing the post-season ban.
Sensitivity toward the use of Native American symbols goes back a few decades. In the early 1970s, Stanford University and Dartmouth College jettisoned the nickname “Indians.” Stanford chose as its replacement mascot the innocuous color, Cardinal. Dartmouth went so far as to select a dark shade of green formally known as PMS 349 and frequently referred to as Dartmouth Green as its official school color to complement its nickname of the Big Green.
As an aside, the legitimacy of the Ivy League school’s color could be called into question. Would crayon-maker Crayola give a legal release to Dartmouth to poach Forest Green and claim the color as its own?
After more than 35 years, the Big Green nickname remains wildly unpopular and the college’s student body has instead given unofficial approval to an animated beer keg as the school mascot. Now here is a healthy alternative to a school’s politically incorrect use of a Native American mascot — glorification of alcohol.
What is not yet known is how the NCAA will measure Native American approval or displeasure of a school’s use of a generic nickname such as Indian, Redman or Brave in contrast to a more specific tribal name such as Seminole. Bradley University and the University of North Carolina-Pembroke both use the nickname “Brave” yet Bradley is on the NCAA banned list and UNC-Pembroke got a free pass. San Diego State was given NCAA okay for that school’s use of Aztec for still unexplained reasons. Perhaps it is because Aztec represents not just an Indian tribe but is instead an entire civilization.
The NCAA signaled moral outrage at the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname. Yet the association has remained silent on the fact that the school is (as are both the states of North and South Dakota) named after the Dakota tribe.
The NCAA’s battle with UND has been raging for more than four years. Criticizing the Fighting Sioux nickname as racist, offensive and derogatory have been groups such as the school’s faculty Senate and the state Board of Higher Education. They are seemingly undeterred by one significant group that wants the university to retain the nickname and logo. That is the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe, the nearby tribe from whom the school nickname is derived. The most absurd aspect of this politically correct ruckus is that non-native Americans are lecturing Native Americans on what should offend them. A hearing on the matter is scheduled in a county courtroom in early December.
Then there is the case of South Dakota’s Huron College. The school was purchased in 2001 by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and was renamed Si Tanka University, another American Indian name. The school closed its doors in early 2005 due to financial difficulties. Rumors have been rampant that the school may eventually be sold to a group anxious to reopen the college under its former name, Huron, which is another tribal name. Where to draw the line? Let’s see: Native American school name — good; Native American school nickname — bad.
The imbroglio over Indian names is not limited to college sports. A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court appears to have finally closed the door on a 17-year-old lawsuit against the National Football League’s Washington Redskins for that team’s logo. It was a New Mexico man who originally claimed the Redskins mascot and logo “is damaging to Native American peoples.” However, according to Playboy magazine, 90 percent of Native Americans who were polled responded they were not offended by the Redskins mascot. Is disapproval by a single individual sufficient to terminate the use of a Native American symbol or does majority rule? More importantly, one could argue it has been this year’s lackluster play and dismal won-loss record by the Redskins that is more damaging to its fan base than any nickname the team could use.
Perhaps a more comprehensive poll could be taken of American Indian attitudes and views on the use of Indian names. The NCAA could commission the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute to complete the task although an apparent conflict of interest exists since the school is named after a Connecticut area tribe.
It is entirely possible that before long we will hear from other interested parties who will protest the use of school mascots and nicknames they find offensive. Will the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest the use of Wildcats at the University of Kentucky? How do Satan worshippers feel about the Duke University Blue Devils? It may not be surprising if the National Education Association were to announce its opposition to Virginia Military Institute’s misspelling of “cadets” as Keydets. Finally, could descendants of the sixth century B.C. Peloponnesians criticize Michigan State’s use of Spartan?
Perhaps it is time for the PC police to take a long, deep breath and relax before contemplating any further action. Maybe all parties could sit down and calmly discuss the matter during a lunchtime meeting. I suggest a menu of German bologna and Swiss cheese on Jewish rye, with a helping of Amish sauerkraut, a slice of kosher pickle, a Greek salad with Italian dressing on the side, followed by a Danish pastry for dessert with a hot cup of Colombian coffee. After all, everyone should be reasonable about this and avoid using any racial, ethnic or national origin in a manner that any single person might decide is offensive and derogatory.
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