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Foul play: The NCAA's desire for politically correct team mascots

By C.T. Rossi
web posted July 8, 2002

Th fact that college professors and administrators are oftentimes at the center of activist movements will not raise any eyebrows. Neither does it come as a surprise that some colleges and universities institutionally act as a Leftist vanguard. But now the association entrusted with maintaining the integrity of college athletics has decided that its real mission lies not in supervising sports, but in promoting a political agenda.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, an institution never truly devoid of political motives - as it is comprised of college and university administrators - substantively entered the arena as a political player with its April 2002 decision not to grant championship athletic venues to states that prominently displayed any Confederate imagery. In their official news release on the subject, the NCAA said they held doubts on whether states that displayed the Confederate flag had "the ability . . . to provide a quality experience for the participants and fans and to conduct those events safely." In other words, the NCAA was accusing the people of the states of Mississippi and South Carolina, by virtue of the design of their flags, of being a possible bodily threat to (presumably black) college athletes. This far exceeds the fictitious "right not to be offended." The NCAA seems to imply that the Confederate flag is akin to a sign saying that redneck lynching crews are open and ready for business.

Now the NCAA has turned its attention to a more pressing issue. No, it's not a plan to address the plummeting graduation rate of black male basketball players. Neither is it stronger disciplinary measures against the ever-escalating legal troubles encountered by college football players (nearly one-fourth of the Northern Arizona University football team was arrested and convicted last year). Nor are they addressing the admissions by NBA and NFL players that they received large (and illegal) cash payments from boosters.

Rather the NCAA has focused its energies on the appropriateness of certain college mascots - more specifically whether colleges and universities should be allowed to have Indian nicknames. The NCAA has recommended this weighty matter over to its Minority Opportunities and Issues Committee for further study.

Otto the Orange
Otto the Orange

Over the past 30 years several colleges have voluntarily changed mascots. Once upon a time Stanford University were monikered the Indians but have since switched their name to match their official color - the Cardinal - while their football helmets feature a tree (who ever said political correctness had to make sense?). Similarly, Syracuse University athletic teams were once the Saltine Warriors - a dignified, if not imposing sounding, nickname. Today, they are merely the Orange. Their mascot is a fuzzy and fruity figure - Otto the Orange.

While one may disagree with an institution's decision to change its mascot, it is the right of the institution to govern itself. But now the NCAA, an extra-institutional governing body, is set to tamper with decisions best left to the schools themselves. Will the NCAA attempt to enact sensitivity censorship forcibly upon member schools? Possibly. Could the NCAA submit member schools to greater rules violation scrutiny if they refuse to consent to name changes? Equally possible. The litmus test will undoubtedly come in Florida.

Florida State University Seminoles
Florida State University Seminoles

The Florida State University Seminoles have been one of the preeminent college football powers for the better part of two decades. To begin all home games, a student garbed as the famous Seminole Indian chief Osceola (leader of an Indian rebellion against a federal relocation program), mounted on an Appaloosa horse, thrusts a flaming spear into the midfield turf. The spectacle is held sacrosanct by fans of FSU football. While this bit of collegiate theatrics at FSU may be drawing the ire of the NCAA, what is truly telling is what does not seem to concern the governing body.

The legal web site Findlaw has named FSU as the number one in their Tarnished Twenty rankings. According to Findlaw, the Tarnished Twenty rankings "are based on the number and severity of ongoing or recently concluded criminal, civil, NCAA and other administrative proceedings and investigations involving players, coaches, boosters or other persons or entities associated with a program." Even though the Seminoles have been enshrined in this legal hall of shame, there are no current NCAA investigations surrounding FSU football. However, the smart money says that if the NCAA "strongly recommends" the elimination of Indian names and FSU fails to comply, the legal run-ins of Seminole players will suddenly become a source of great concern to the NCAA.

It's either that or get ready for the Florida State Garnet.

C.T. Rossi comments on contemporary culture for the Free Congress Foundation.

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