The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s executive committee — comprised of 14 white men, two white women, and three black men — decided last week that 18 university and college nicknames were “hostile and abusive” to Indians. The nicknames and mascots may not be displayed on any team uniform at any NCAA postseason tournament starting next February. It was a new milestone in condescending liberal racism.
The committee members were the sole arbiters of what was “hostile and abusive” and what was not. Among those not allowed a say in the matter were, ahem, Indians.
After NCAA busybodies spent time snooping around Tallahassee, Florida, to gather evidence for their case against Florida State’s use of the Seminoles nickname, the Seminole Tribal Council voted in April — unanimously — to affirm the tribe’s support for the university’s nickname and mascot. Nonetheless, come August the NCAA decreed FSU’s use of the name “hostile and abusive.” Those silly Indians, they obviously don’t know what’s good for them.
Also banned is the nickname of the University of Illinois — the Illini. “Illini” was the name of the tribal confederation that once ruled the land now called Illinois. It is the root word for the state name and the name of its people, Illinoians. It is hard to see hostility in a name the white people use to describe themselves, but the NCAA sees it.
University of Illinois basketball jerseys say “Illinois,” not “Illini.” In its eternal wisdom, the executive committee will allow jerseys printed with “Illinois,” but not ones printed with “Illini.” What will committee members do when they learn that “Illinois” is French for “Illini”?
Allowing jerseys to bear the French name for the Illini tribal confederation, but not the name the confederation gave itself, is the logical end point of multicultural sensitivity. One wonders whether the University of Illinois student newspaper — The Illini — will be allowed to cover future NCAA tournaments.
Indiana University, whose athletic teams are called “Hoosiers,” escaped the NCAA’s nickname ban. But Indiana’s jerseys don’t say “Hoosiers.” They say “Indiana,” which means “Land of Indians.”
By the way, the NCAA is headquartered in Indianapolis — “City of the Land of Indians.” How embarrassing.
The NCAA has banned the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname. “Sioux” is the name for a confederation of smaller tribes, including the Dakota. If UND removes the “hostile and abusive” “Sioux” name from its jerseys and replaces it with “North Dakota,” it will still have a tribal name on its jerseys. Obviously, the NCAA executives have not thought their plan through.
The University of Oklahama’s football team wears jerseys sporting the university’s team nickname: Sooners. Sooners were people who illegally occupied land confiscated from the Indians. (They got there “sooner” than the law allowed.) The university’s basketball team wears jerseys bearing the state name: Oklahoma. “Oklahoma” is Choctaw for “red people.” Both of these names are OK, while “Seminoles,” approved by the tribe, is banned. Go figure.
A college referee I know wonders whether Billy Packer and Greg Gumbel will be allowed to say “Fighting Sioux” or “Seminoles.” Play-by-play certainly will be clumsy if nicknames cannot be used.
All of this nonsense is born of the notion that when white people adopt the name and likeness of red people, it is an act of racism, an assertion of racial or tribal superiority. After all, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, a historically Indian institution, was allowed to keep its “Braves” nickname. Yet white people usually are not being condescending by adopting Indian names or mascots.
Athletic teams wish to associate themselves with qualities valued on the field of play: courage, valor, strength, endurance, bravery. Hence they choose names and mascots they believe emblematic of those qualities: Sioux, Vikings, Seminoles, Celtics, Bears, Tigers, Yankees, Pirates, etc. No one names his team the Pigeons.
To the NCAA executive committee, unencumbered by reality, the actual intent behind the nickname’s adoption does not matter. All that matters is how others might perceive it.
The best reaction to this fear of offense, of course, is to let individual institutions work out these disagreements on their own. Instead, the paternalism that comes from intellectual superiority has overruled common sense. And so 19 white and black university and college executives have told countless Indians what is best for them. It is the very definition of racist paternalism.
I hope each of the 18 institutions affected by this policy makes every NCAA tournament next year. And I hope they wear their uniforms, unaltered, and force the NCAA to drag their players off the courts, fields, tracks and mats. Bureaucratic bullying is easy when it can be done with the stroke of a pen. When it has to be backed up by brute force, it becomes a lot more difficult to justify.
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