August 19, 2005

Ethnic Team Names

An excerpt from my article in the September 12th issue of The American Conservative (subscribe here):

Although sportswriters like to present themselves as bluff, call-'em'-as-they-see-'em regular guys, they are remarkably prone to form high tech lynch mobs when a sports figure violates the reigning norms of political correctness. For example, Fighting Irish football legend Paul Hornung suggested in 2003 that to compete better with less academic colleges, the University of Notre Dame should, in effect, offer black athletes more affirmative action. A firestorm of journalistic indignation, though, cost Hornung his radio job.

Yet, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's recent diktat that college "mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity, or national origin" be banned from NCAA tournaments (such as the big money March Madness basketball tourney) was so laughable that many sportswriters dared snipe at it in print.

For example, scribes pointed out that the NCAA's pronunciamento only applied to 18 colleges with American Indian team names, such as the Florida State Seminoles. Yet, the council of the Florida Seminole tribe had given formal permission to the university in return for scholarships, a Seminole museum on campus, and other benefits.

Some columnists noted that proscribing the team name of the runner-up in the 2005 basketball tournament, the Fighting Illini, could cause problems since the entire U. of Illinois's name stemmed from the tribe, not to mention the state itself.

By this logic (such as it is), isn't the "U. of Indiana" inherently offensive? And while I don't exactly know what a "Hoosier" is, it sure sounds like it must be hostile or abusive to somebody…

More than a few sportswriters observed that the most beloved nickname in college sports, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (a university so popular that the NCAA had contractually awarded it uniquely favorable treatment in football bowl game bids), is a blatant ethnic stereotype. Indeed, Notre Dame's famed mascot is a hostile and obviously alcohol-abusive leprechaun putting his dukes up. Irish-American comedian George Carlin once observed that he had the feeling Notre Dame had come close to naming its teams the "Drunken, Thick-Skulled, Brawling, Short-D***** Irish." Still, ND's appellation is A-OK with the NCAA.

Nonetheless, from the NCAA's institutional perspective, its ban on Indian team names might actually turn out to be a rather clever bureaucratic ploy.

As Sports Illustrated's S. L. Price noted: "Although Native American activists are virtually united in opposition to the use of Indian nicknames and mascots, the Native American population sees the issue far differently." A 2002 poll of 352 Native Americans found that 81 percent approved of college and high school sports programs using Indian nicknames

Of course, the NCAA hardly cares what the average American Indian thinks. What plagues the organization are the Native American activists, led by the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, which is a subsidiary of the old 1970s radical organization, the American Indian Movement.

Although individual universities like Florida State can work out deals with local tribal governments for naming rights, the NCAA is pestered by free-floating ideologues like the NCRSM. I suspect the NCAA leadership thinks it's double-crossing those annoying Indian activists, rendering them irrelevant by abolishing the offending Indian nicknames. As Stalin might have said if he was an NCAA functionary: "No mascot, no problem." [Continued in the September 12th issue]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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