NCAA ban on Native American mascots goes too far
Yesterday, the NCAA ruled that Native American mascots and nicknames will not be allowed to be used or displayed at post-season tournaments. While I applaud cultural sensitivity and respect for the oppressed, this ruling goes too far. The issue is far more complex than the do-gooders at the NCAA understand.
Let me begin by explaining why I feel I have anything to say about this issue. I spent over three years working on a First Nations reserve in Canada, conducting research for my Ph.D. thesis. During that time, I had the opportunity to ask many of my friends and acquaintances in the Odawa (Ottawa) community what they thought of this issue.
The key, they all said, was HOW Natives were portrayed.
Essentially, there are three levels of portrayal:
The first, and worst, is the blatant racial epithet. The prime example—and the team name that began this argument way back in the 1960s—is the Washington Redskins. “Redskin” is a racial slur, pure and simple. How would African Americans feel if a team were called the Atlanta Porch Monkeys, or how would white folks feel about the Green Bay Honkies? This team name needs to be changed immediately.
The second level includes tribe names, such as the Florida State Seminoles and the Illinois Fighting Illini. In Florida, the Seminole Nation has come out in support of the team name and tradition. At the University of Illinois, where I have been on faculty for the past year, there is a raging debate about the use of “The Chief Illiniwek” mascot and the Illini name. Tragically, it appears that there is only one remaining Native nation out of the five nations that once comprised the Illini Confederation. And, frankly, I’m not sure if anyone involved in the debate in Champaign has asked the Peoria Tribe of Indians in Miami, Oklahoma, what they think of The Chief.
The only issue that I see as worth discussing is whether The Chief’s halftime dance, which is not historically accurate and, quite frankly, looks spastic to me, could not be revised to reflect a more accurate portrayal of Illini tradition.
The point is that if a school or team is using a people’s name and imagery, they should ask to make sure it’s OK. The Seminoles say, “Cool.” My Native friends say, “Cool,” too, as long as it’s not disrespectful. Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians is a gross caricature. It’s offensive to many. But the team name itself is not (to most). The same goes, by the way, for the “Fighting Irish” mascot. If I were Irish, I might have trouble with the short, belligerent, obviously drunk mascot, but the name itself wouldn’t bother me.
Finally, there are the vaguely “native” mascots, like The Warriors and The Chiefs. These are completely benign. There are LOTS of cultures in the world—past and present—that have warrior classes, not just Native Americans.
This brings me to my team, The Minnesota Vikings. I am of Norwegian heritage. My ancestors WERE Vikings. I am extremely proud of my lineage and the use of that name for my team. True, the Vikings and their culture no longer exist (like many Native American tribes whose names are used by teams), but I fail to find it exploitative. If raping and pillaging softer Northern Europeans was still a viable way of life in Norway, I would probably emigrate back and join in the fun.
Sadly (for me and my people, at least) those days are gone. As it is, I will stomp and cheer and drink mead and act like a berserker during Viking games. Thank Thor the NCAA can’t touch THAT name.
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Sorry couldn't get resist.
The NCAA uses all its collective mental powers to justify not paying its pro athletes. Oh, that's right we had that discussion. What about the women's water polo players!
Hard to disagree with you on this particular one though Nutty Professor.
Though I'm still holding out hope that Heywood from your Jeong Jang post will show up and comment that he's outraged that you're endorsing raping and pillaging. And still upset that you so severely dissed Michelle Wie.
Up until the following quote this was a worthwhile article......"If raping and pillaging softer Northern Europeans was still a viable way of life in Norway, I would probably emigrate back and join in the fun. Sadly (for me and my people, at least) those days are gone."
My question to you.......how many women from Norway past or present would consider raping "fun"? For that matter how many "softer Northern European" villages would have considered being pillaged "fun".
You can proudly defend your Viking heritage of rapists and pillagers....your words not mine....but you have no idea what great pains the U of I has gone through to ensure that the Chief is respected and honored. He is not a mascot but a symbol of Illinois heritage. He performs a celebratory dance not a religous or war dance. He is not on the side lines cheering anyone on. He does not travel the country with any sports team from the U of I. He is more revered in the State of Illinois than any politician or leader.
I would suggest that you visit www.chiefilliniwek.org and find out exactly what you are talking about.....
As an alumni of the U of I, I'm ashamed that you are on the faculty and scared for any females who take your classes.
Here in Florida, there is a plan afoot to bring this to court and charge the NCAA with some form of restraint of trade violation - IF they don't back off this ill-advised plan.
Thanks Kiel, for a thoughtful and well-reasoned argument.
But for a faculty member to say in any way that rape is "fun" is not only offensive it is dangerous for it to be condoned. There is nothing funny about rape. All cultures and peoples have violence in their past. There is no denying that and I appreciate Mr. Christianson's attempt to illuminate the human condition. I agree, as a student of history, that studying the past is absolutely necessary to progress, but saying that you regret that you can't "join in the fun" is a lot different than saying "let's study what happened here".
I found the last line of Mr. Christianson's column very funny.....
"I will stomp and cheer and drink mead and act like a berserker during Viking games. Thank Thor the NCAA can’t touch THAT name." THAT is humor. Rape is not.
Obviously, the two of you have never been the victim of a violent, humiliating attack against your person.
You are both very lucky, many women and even some men in the past and present cannot say the same thing......Go Illini!
But I do appreciate your indignance, because by expressing it, you have hit my point directly on the head: The name "Vikings" (as fond as I am of it) does indeed conjure up a time when violent acts were, in fact, a common (and even for some at the time, acceptable) means of existence. So, if it WERE an NCAA mascot, would it fall into the category of mascots deemed "hostile or abusive"? I believe that case could be made--much more so than the Illini!--and thus it too would be banned.
I do not think that would be fair, just as I do not think that respectfully presented Native American mascots should be banned. Certainly there is nothing in the Vikings regalia that celebrates the truly bad parts of their namesake's history. (Although, to be fair, Vikings usually married into local populations and settled down as responsible family folk.)
The point is that blanket judgements on mascots (or writers) cannot be passed based on one criterion (or word) divorced from both synchronic and diachronic considerations.
2) Kiel/Fuzzy, what the hell were you thinking?
3) Possessed ministers have come out in support of the mascot of my alma mater, the Demon Deacon of Wake Forest.
4) Donna, the singular feminine of alumni is alumna, which is what you are.
5) BV, what happened to the D? Did you soil it with your poison pen?
6) No six. Once again I've led you astray.
Team mascots should either be named for inanimate objects or things no one likes...like middle aged men.
I also believe you should not be a Professor anywhere and am unofficially removing one letter from any advanced degree you have...take your pick.
I guess it all comes down to weather or not cultures should be portrayed as they want to be seen or if they should be portrayed as they are seen by others.I don't think it would be fun to have a mascot who portrayed a real life character perfectly, that would be extremely boring.
Personally I think people need to lighten up and realize that some things about all of our cultures are just funny, we're all imperfect.
Sure it was wrong for early Americans to unjustly kill off Native Americans, but to be perfectly honest I don't think it really matters anymore, forgive and forget.
I'm puertorican, so should I hate spain because they invaded puertorico and killed off many native puertoricans and took over the culture and infiltrated the population? Nope, specially if you put into account that some of my ancestors are from spain, as most native americans have modern american blood in their veins. Being 16% native american means you're 84% something else. So if I'm a golfer and I make 16% of my puts am I known as a great putter? Or what if I make 84% of my puts?
We have to live now and here, bitterness is only going to hurt yourself.
Besides, no one really believes mascot's or slogans to be a true representation of a culture. It's just a character, a representation of a silly person, not a representation of a silly culture.
(I have no clue why I wrote such a long reply on a subject that doesnt realy interest me)
It is interesting that the Seminoles, Utes, and Saginaw Chippewa Band of Central Michigan all came out in favor of their namesake university mascots. And the NCAA exempted those schools from the ban. The Fighting Sioux of the U of North Dakota, however, did NOT receive support from the Dakota people (not from any of the three bands consuslted, I believe), and did not receive exemption, as ruled just yesterday by the NCAA.
By way of adding to this very interesting discourse, I offer the link to the American Psychological Association resolution concerning Native American mascots:
A great deal of research cited there suggests that the observations Arthur makes about the kids he's worked with are not simply anecdotal.
80% of Native people interviewed do not find it an "honor" to be portrayed as mascots. And the Viking reference is irrelevant, as Vikings and Irish people have been absorbed into white culture for some time.
Native Americans are non-white, so a better comparison might be, The New York Negroes, The Washington Wetbacks, or the San Francisco Chinamen. Since lawsuits have eradicated these images because of their negative impact on Asian, Black or Latino cultures, we can at least honor Natives by respecting them- so what if there are a few Natives who endorse institutionalized racism.
I agree in principle. Did you read the examples I gave in the blog? They were almost identical to the ones you used. (BTW, why use honor in quotes? I never used that term nor claimed that it was an honor to be portrayed as a mascot.)
That said, if a group like the Seminoles comes out in support of their name being used, then I do not see that, say, the Cree can legitimately complain about it. Lumping "native people" all together in one group is historically inaccurate at best, culturally insensitive at worst.
Of course I read your examples. You missed the point when you say that Seminoles support the use of a Native mascot- THAT is "lumping 'native people' all together". The truth is, by "Seminoles" FSU means James Billie and a handful of aboriginal leaders, NOT a survey of the Seminole population. FSU takes great pains- as does your University of Illinois- to find "representatives" of Native populations who support their viewpoint, and tons of Native mascot supporters are pouring out of the woodwork claiming Indian heritage, proof not-with-standing. These sports-fans who claim Indianness have more often than not never set foot on a reservation, never reflected on the comparisons between more-recent civil rights issues (remember Sambo's Restaurants? There were black folks who thought these were okay, despite the overtly racist imagery). And it makes sense that animals as mascots are brought into the issue: one student, when asked about Indians as mascots, said they were "just another uncivilized animal".
My point is that it doesn't really matter if you can get permission from Billie or any other particular supporter- even without rhetorical "lumping" the surveys speak for themselves. The majority of Natives don't like it. With good reason.
Excellent points. (And you're right, my choice of wording was "lumpish.") Did you get to see the link I included previously, from the American Psychological Association?
It concurs with what you've said. Nevertheless, I have been on reservations and in Native communities where a great many of the people (not just a few) do actually take pride in their culture being associated with sports--e.g., the Saginaw-Chippewa Band's support of the Central Michigan University's Chippewa mascot. I certainly cannot speak to the issue other than with my own admittedly second-hand impressions (not being a Native), but I don't think that being a mascot/name automatically makes people equate the mascot with "animals." It may well do so--and if so, should be eliminated (although in the long run what is really needed is a profound shift in education reagarding Native history and culture).
I still maintain at present, however, that the only true, final judge of whether a team should keep or change its mascot is the group that is being portrayed (perhaps by public vote rather than by decree of a few leaders). Taking away this right of choice across the board seems to me to smack of paternalism.
Someone start linking and someone host a site and lets get some sponsorship behind telling the NCAA what to do with this calamity of an idea.