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NCAA to Crack Down on 'Hostile' Nicknames

Many Native American logos and mascots will be banned at postseason college sports events.

August 06, 2005|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

The National Collegiate Athletic Assn. will ban the use of 18 Native American nicknames and mascots it considers "hostile or abusive" during its postseason tournaments beginning early next year, the organization announced Friday.

The move drew praise from groups that oppose such depictions but stirred controversy with a banned list that includes the Florida State Seminoles, the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Utah Utes, while granting exceptions to the San Diego State Aztecs and Cal State Stanislaus Warriors, among others.

"That's a start," said Cindy La Marr, former president of the National Indian Education Assn. and executive director of Capitol Area Indian Resources in Sacramento. She also has served on the steering committee of the California-based Alliance Against Racial Mascots.

"The whole reason behind it is, it harms our children," La Marr said, citing not only stereotypes and caricatures but also the nicknames themselves.

"It's different if it's a city school or street. A sports team creates a division because one team wins and one team loses."

But T.K. Wetherell, Florida State's president, called the decision "outrageous and insulting," citing a resolution by the Tribal Council of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in support of the school's use of the nickname and symbols, which include Chief Osceola, who gallops onto the football field on horseback and plants a burning spear in the turf before home games.

"The rules, as we understand them, would have us cover the Seminole name and symbol as if we were embarrassed, and any committee that would think that is a proper and respectful treatment of Native Americans should be ashamed," Wetherell said in a statement.

Max Osceola, a member of the tribal council, said: "Is the NCAA going to make Notre Dame go ask every Irishman if it's OK to use the name Fighting Irish?"

San Diego State, which in recent years replaced its Monty Montezuma mascot and has worked to make its depiction of Aztecs historically accurate, successfully argued in part that an Aztec was not an American Indian.

"One, the Aztecs are not a North American culture, but a culture that was based in what is now Mexico," said Jack Beresford, a university spokesman. "Second, we went through a pretty exhaustive process, a comprehensive review of our logos that were deemed offensive, and replaced Monty Montezuma with a new mascot, consulting the community and experts in Aztec culture to ensure it was historically accurate and culturally appropriate."

NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the organization "accepted the findings from SDSU that it could not find any organized tribe or group related to Aztecs.

"The institution reviewed the issue both here in the United States and in Mexico, where the Aztecs first originated," Christianson said.

The Cal State Stanislaus Warriors were not subject to the postseason ban because in recent years the school took the Indian head emblem off its basketball court and jerseys and changed its mascot several times, most recently to a mythical Trojan figure, Athletic Director Milton Richards said.

Among other schools that are not subject to the ban is North Carolina Pembroke, which uses the nickname Braves but was founded in part for Lumbee Indians in the area and has a high population of American Indian students.

The decision to enforce a limited ban was made by the NCAA Executive Committee, a group made up of university presidents and chancellors.

"Colleges and universities may adopt any mascot that they wish, as that is an institutional matter," said Walter Harrison, chairman of the committee and president of 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 ban, which is subject to appeal by individual schools, is to take effect in February. It will not cover regular-season competition or major college football's bowl championship series, which is governed independently.

However, NCAA President Myles Brand said he hoped the BCS would follow the NCAA's lead.

"We're trying to send a message very strongly that we do not think these kind of mascots are appropriate," Brand said.

The decision to limit the ban to NCAA-sponsored postseason competition is intended in part to protect the NCAA from litigation.

"As for lawsuits, I don't mean to sound too flip about this, but everyone has recourse through the courts," Brand said. "They certainly could try if they want, but we think this is a very reasoned and solid approach that governs those things we can control, and we would be prepared to defend that if cases were brought against us."

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