Native Appeal
by Josh Spence

There is no shortage of great stories to follow heading into the 2005 college football season.  Instant replay has been adopted by most conferences.  There are new tweaks to the BCS system.  Marcus Vick makes his return with a strong Virginia Tech team.  And will USC be able to compensate for the loss of offensive coordinator Norm Chow to win a third straight National Title?  And of course locally, the resurgence of Pirate football in the Skip Holtz era is the primary story.  However, it's another story that has caught my attention lately.  Last week the NCAA adopted a new policy that prohibits the use of hostile and abusive, racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery, at any of the 88 NCAA championships. 

Native Americans have argued for many years that sports teams should not be allowed to use nicknames that use a Native American likeness.  And for years teams like the Washington Redskins, and as in this case, colleges like Florida State have fought to protect the name that has been with their team for years.  Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA's Executive Committee and president at the University of Hartford, says that "Colleges and universities may adopt any mascot that they wish, as that is an institutional matter."  "But", Harrison continues, "As a national association, we believe that mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at the championship events that we control."

So what exactly does this mean for college athletics?  Part of the new policy that will take effect on February 1, 2006 requires that institutions with hostile or abusive references must take reasonable steps to cover up those references at any predetermined NCAA championship site that has been previously awarded. Also, it states that institutions displaying or promoting hostile or abusive references on their mascots, cheerleaders, dance teams and band uniforms or paraphernalia are prohibited from wearing the material at NCAA championships, effective August 1, 2008. Last, and effective immediately, institutions with student-athletes wearing uniforms or having paraphernalia with hostile or abusive references must ensure that those uniforms or paraphernalia not be worn or displayed at NCAA championship competitions.

The NCAA executive committee also suggests that institutions not using Native American imagery or mascots should not support those who do, citing the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Iowa, who have practices of not scheduling athletic competitions with schools who use Native American nicknames, imagery or mascots.

There are 18 current colleges and universities that continue to use Native American imagery or mascots and are subject to the new policy.  Heading the list, at least in recent success is the Florida State Seminoles.   Will these schools be forced to change their names?  For me, I say let it be.  It's not as if the use of these nicknames is intended to harm anyone.  I mean, I can understand the argument of a Native American that says this type of mascot in sports depicts their culture as savage fighters.  However, I don't feel that changing mascot names is going to change public perception on the issue.  The savage image has been around for years and changing team names is not going to change it.  The world of sports could be shaken if this issue becomes larger.  If the policy is found to be effective in the NCAA it could spread to pro sports leagues.  Can you imagine having to call the Redskins, Chiefs, or Braves by a different name?  A thought that is hard to fathom, but could soon become reality.

Josh Spence