N.C. School Mascots May Violate Federal Law

The mascots of two North Carolina colleges may violate federal antidiscrimination laws, under the wording of a statement released in April by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In the statement, the civil-rights commission called “for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools.” The statement called the mascots “disrespectful and offensive” and did not discount civil-rights advocates’ position that “these mascots may violate anti-discrimination laws.”

Both Catawba College in Salisbury and Chowan College in Murfreesboro have American Indian mascots. Catawba features the Indians, and Chowan features the Braves.

Also, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke is criticized for its athletic teams’ nickname, the Braves, by a website set up by activists opposed to American Indian mascots. The website, End Racial Bigotry Now!, includes UNCP on its list of “Schools Displaying Racial Mascots.”

UNCP was established in 1887 to educate Native Americans and has used the Braves nickname since the 1940s. Its mascot, added in 1991, is actually the red-tailed hawk.

The commission acknowledges in its statement that “when Indian imagery was first adopted for sports mascots it was not to offend Native Americans.” Regardless, the commission sets a standard that “the use of the imagery and traditions, no matter how popular, should end when they are offensive.”

But that standard may prove problematic. Some American Indians would find the commission’s use of the term “Indian” to be offensive, for instance. And some scholars argue that not all American Indians are offended by the mascots.

Dr. David A. Yeagley, an adjunct professor of humanities and psychology at Oklahoma State University, is a member of the Comanche Tribe and celebrates the mascots. Writing in a column for the online publication FrontPage Magazine, Yeagley notes that “the U.S. military have helicopters named ‘Apache’ and ‘Comanche'” and says that Americans “name their weapons systems after the fiercest tribes, because they want some of that fierceness to rub off.” Yeagley suggests that the same principle holds for naming sports teams.

American Indian mascots aren’t the only ones, however, to have come under fire recently. White male mascots have also been criticized or pulled at several universities.