NCAA bars Indian nicknames, mascots

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A bold and progressive statement, or political correctness run amok?

NCAA President Myles Brand singled out 18 schools as having “prima facie hostile and abusive” symbols, and advocates praised that list for including what they consider the biggest offenders, such as Florida State, Illinois, Utah and North Dakota.

The trouble is, the NCAA “did not specify exactly what would be considered hostile and abusive.” With “prima facie” they take the Potter Stewart approach to the complicated issue: “I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity], but I know it when I see it.” That guarantees that the matter will default to the courts.

The list of schools affected by the NCAA’s decision ranges from the generic (braves, Indians, savages) to specific (Chippewas, Seminoles, Illini, Choctaws). Somehow, “Warriors” didn’t make the list, but “Braves” did.

San Diego State,

whose Aztecs nickname goes back to the 1920s, escaped the list because the NCAA could not find any organized tribe or group related to the Aztecs, a civilization that dates to at least the 12th century.

As a result, the Aztecs’ spear logo and cultural imagery will not have to be covered up if their teams reach the postseason.

So apparently the issue is whether there is a living identity to the ethnicity in question. Yet there are plenty of Irish-Americans, and Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune wants to know why the obstreperous leprechaun on the Notre Dame logos isn’t deemed offensive.

I don’t mind a team being called the Irish, I really don’t. I take pride in my heritage. I wish we could live in a world in which a university’s teams could be called the Fighting Italians, the Fighting Mexicans, the Fighting Japanese or the Fighting Germans.

Yet if we get rid of some, mustn’t we get rid of all? Can a school really get away with calling itself the Fighting Irish in the wake of this NCAA posse’s vigilant PC crackdown?

The NCAA seems to have no answer to this. It only says “the Fighting Irish refers to a nationality, not a race of people, and no ethnic group.” Yet you could say the same of Chippewas, Seminoles, Illini, and Choctaws.

In fact, one of the universities originally under the microscope for its “Warriors” nickname got off the NCAA’s list because the NCAA learned it “used the nickname Warriors to depict a Greek soldier in full period combat attire.” Seminoles are a no-no, but Greeks are fair game?

It seems to me whatever good intention underlays the NCAA’s policy is more than undone by its arbitrary qualities.

The NCAA has shown itself capable of making ham-fisted intrusions into complex social issues — witness the boycotts and threats against states whose flags carry design elements held over from the Confederacy. Yet the Confederates borrowed older imagery — most of it Scottish — in creating their flag.

At times, the college sports organization seems more concerned with whether a given symbol offends other people, not those it is meant to caricature. Ole Miss has had to defend its use of its nickname, the Rebels, for a couple decades, and Nicholls State struggled with its mascot, a colonel in Confederate garb, before choosing to keep it.

Meanwhile, fans of the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL can be glad their team is out of the reach of the NCAA.

And the Crusader mascot of Valparaiso University, College of Holy Cross, and other Catholic schools has been objected to by some thoughtful people made queasy by the brutality of the actual Crusaders, and because the word is anathema to modern Muslims. No one, so far as I know, has objected to “Crusaders” because it trivializes the holy purpose of the most pure-hearted and God-fearing among the Crusaders to associate their name with a college basketball team and its cheerleaders.

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