Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The NCAA & College Mascots: R.I.P Chief Illiniwek

Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) has a dilemma, and I do not mean why is a university called Indiana University in Pennsylvania? Since the 1930s the school’s nickname has been “Indians.” At one time the mascot was an Indian. The dilemma comes because the National Collegiate Athletic Association is on a mission to wipe away Native American references which “create hostile or abusive environments inconsistent with the NCAA constitution and inconsistent with the Association’s commitment to diversity, respect and sportsmanship.”

A IUP task force recommended changing the nickname and mascot. The president at the time chose Bears but left “Indians” as the nickname. The NCAA is threatening sanctions if IUP continues to use the name “Indians,” and the school has lost their NCAA appeal. IUP really has no choice but change.

IUP is not alone in its challenge to update what has been deemed politically incorrect, potentially offensive or insensitive mascots.
The University of Louisiana at Monroe
just this summer switched to “Warhawks” from Indians.

Northeastern Oklahoma State
wants to change from “Redmen.” They figure the process will take about a year.

Southeastern Oklahoma State changed from the “Savages” to “Savage Storm.”

University of North Dakota (UND) President Charles Kupchella was mad because
the NCAA has allowed some colleges to keep their nicknames and mascots if supported by local Native American tribes. Thus, the Florida State Seminoles, University of Utah Utes, Catawba College Indians and several others have managed to keep their mascots or names. Dr. Kupchella, who is ironically a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, wrote a passionate letter to the NCAA detailing his university’s unhappiness with the NCAA decision that UND is in violation of the policy and stated that UND is considering a lawsuit. The UND Website posts a link to the NCAA Litigation Fund. Guess they are serious.

The letter the NCAA sent to Catawba clarifies the organization’s position.
“Therefore, inasmuch, as Catawba College’s use of the name “Catawba Indians” and associated imagery has received the approval of the Catawba Indian Nation; the institution will not be subject to the terms of the policy. It is important to note that the staff review committee has approved the use of the name “Catawba Indians” and not the use of the generic term “Indians.” The staff review committee believes that the use of a generic Native American reference like “Indians” or “Braves” cannot be mitigated by the concurrence of any Native American tribe. No Native American tribe “owns” the word “Indians” in the same way it owns the tribal name and, therefore, cannot overcome the presumption position taken by the Executive Committee that the use of such names leads to a hostile or abusive environment.”

Chief Illiniwek
Carol Spindel presents the case for removing Native American mascots and names. “The mascot debate is actually the latest in a long series of battles over who controls American Indian culture,” according to Ms. Spindel who has written a book on sports mascots called Dancing at Halftime. She works at the University of Illinois where folks have been arguing for years over Chief Illiniwek. There’re even several Web sites devoted to the issue ranging from Honor the Chief to Retire the Chief. A former Chief commented to the student newspaper, “I have seen the Chief's obituary written many times before, but so far I’ve never attended the funeral.”

The Sun Times reported that plans were in the works for a group of boosters to take over the Chief’s management. However, the University says this isn’t true. Meanwhile, Chief Illiniwek continues to dance at football games and the University is under NCAA sanctions which prohibit it from hosting postseason tournaments.

This whole issue may seem trivial but time and money are involved in changing a logo and rebranding. Signage, uniforms for teams and bands, flags, licensing agreements and publications must all be changed. But I think back to a quote attributed to former Illinois Senator Paul Simon regarding Ms. Spindel’s book, “Yesterday’s racism we recognize and we are embarrassed by it. Today’s racism we often do not recognize until we read something like Carol Spindel’s clear and fascinating message in Dancing at Halftime.”

Just a question for the NCAA: can Notre Dame keep its “Fighting Irish?”

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