NCAA issues ban on Indian mascots

Last week an executive committee for the National Collegiate Athletics Association decided to prohibit the use of Indian mascots and nicknames by colleges and universities participating in the organization’s postseason tournaments. The NCAA also strongly encouraged institutions to cease scheduling athletic competitions with schools who use Native American nicknames, imagery or mascots.

Enacted by the NCAA’s Executive Committee, the decision came about through proposals passing through the NCAA’s Minority Opportunities and Interest Committee meeting and then the Executive Committee Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity Issues. The NCAA has immediately banned schools from allowing student-athletes participating in NCAA championship competition to wear uniforms or display paraphernalia “with hostile or abusive references.” The ban on Indian mascots at NCAA postseason tournaments is effective Feb. 1, 2006.

The NCAA also banned the wearing of “hostile or abusive references” by “mascots, cheerleaders, dance teams and band uniforms or paraphernalia” at NCAA championships starting Aug. 1, 2008.

The NCAA decided against, however, an all-out edict prohibiting member institutions from deciding upon their own mascots and athletics teams’ nicknames, nor will it bar teams with Indian mascots and nicknames from participation in its postseason events.

“Colleges and universities may adopt any mascot that they wish, as that is an institutional matter,” said Walter Harrison, chair of the Executive Committee and president at the University of Hartford. “But 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.”

The NCAA will also ban tournaments from being hosted by schools with Indian mascots. For those schools with Indian mascots that already have scheduled to host tournaments after Feb. 1, the NCAA will require covering up all logos deemed offensive.

The NCAA announced its decision Aug. 5 in a press release that described the new policy as one that would “prohibit NCAA colleges and universities from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.”

The NCAA identified 18 schools affected by the policy. Among those are Catawba College in Salisbury, whose teams are named the Indians; Chowan College in Murfreesboro, whose teams are called the Braves; and Atlantic Coast Conference institution Florida State University, whose teams are known as the Seminoles.

The NCAA granted its lone exception to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The fact that UNCP is a historically Indian university did not prevent the NCAA from earlier this year demanding that UNCP conduct a study of itself and issue a report to the NCAA on UNCP’s use of its “Braves” mascot and logo. Nevertheless, the organization appeared to recognize the foolishness of essentially accusing a historically Indian school of offending itself.

The NCAA was not so circumspect with its regard for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. On June 17, 2005, the Tribal Council of the Seminole Tribe of Florida unanimously adopted a resolution stating unequivocally its support for Florida State University’s use of the Seminole as its mascot.

The resolution stated that the “Seminole Tribe of Florida has an established relationship with Florida State University which includes its permission to use the name, ‘Seminole’ as well as various Seminole symbols and images such as Chief Osceola.” Also, the “Tribal Council of the Seminole Tribe of Florida wishes to go on record that it has not opposed and, in fact, supports the continued use of the name ‘Seminole’ and any associated head logo as currently endorsed by Florida State University.”

The resolution went on to say that the “Tribal Council further extends an invitation to Florida State University and its officials to continue their relationship and collaborate on the development of logos and nicknames that all members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and officials and students of Florida State University can be proud.”

“The resolution is a formal document that puts into black and white the sentiment of the Tribe, because we feel that it is an honor and a reflection of the university to represent the spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” Tribal councilman Max Osceola told the Sun-Sentinal June 17. “Any other organization, people or Tribes should respect our wishes as we would respect their wishes.”

The NCAA’s reasoning for including FSU on its list despite the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s ringing endorsement was that “other Seminole tribes are not supportive” of FSU’s mascot, according to Charlotte Westerhaus, NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion, in Sporting News Aug. 5.

Shortly after the announcement from the NCAA, FSU President T.K. Wetherell issued a statement denouncing the decision. “Florida State University is stunned at the complete lack of appreciation for cultural diversity” shown by the NCAA, Wetherell said. “That the NCAA would now label our close bond with the Seminole Tribe of Florida as culturally ‘hostile and abusive’ is both outrageous and insulting,” he added.

Wetherell vowed to “pursue all legal avenues” against the NCAA “to ensure that this unacceptable decision is overturned, and that this university will forever be associated with the ‘unconquered’ spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.” He noted that national survey had recently shown that “an overwhelming majority of Native Americans are not offended by the use of Native American names and symbols.”

“In making its decision, the executive committee has been swayed by a strident minority of activists who claim to speak for all Native Americans,” Wetherell said. “It is unconscionable that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has been ignored.”

The NCAA “would have us cover the Seminole name and symbol as if we were embarrassed,” Wetherell said. “Any committee that would think that is a proper and respectful treatment of Native Americans should be ashamed.”

Editor’s note: In May 2006, the NCAA announced that Catawba College could keep its “Indians” name.