On the heels of Indiana University’s loss to UCLA this past Saturday, the NCAA has announced plans to investigate whether the Hoosiers’ head coach, Kelvin Sampson, is offensive to Native Americans. The NCAA is worried that Sampson is an unfair, possibly offensive portrayal of stereotypes often associated with athletic teams. Sampson, a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina, just finished his first year as Indiana University’s men’s head basketball coach, leading the Hoosiers to a 21-11 record.
The Sampson investigation is part of a larger initiative on the part of the NCAA to stop athletic teams from using Native Americans as mascots. Most recently, the University of Illinois retired its mascot, Chief Illiniwek, after more than 80 years.
While Chief Illiniwek entertained the crowd with dances and chants, Kelvin Sampson has led both Oklahoma and Indiana University to appearances in the NCAA Tournament and is considered a successful and well-respected basketball coach. “We’re worried that he is acting as a leader or ‘chief’ and is advocating a ‘warrior culture’ where one must prove one’s masculinity by defeating his or her opponent in noble combat,” said an NCAA representative. “We don’t feel that type of athletic competition is inherently bad, but we are concerned about our association with this type of portrayal of any group of people.”
When asked about the situation, an IU representative said, on the condition of anonymity, “Coach Sampson is in no way offensive. Hell, I have tons of friends who are Native American and none of them have a problem with him. Except for the Illinois fans, they really hate him and what he represents.”
Since the investigation was announced last night, calls have poured into the NCAA from Kentucky fans, swearing that head basketball coach Tubby Smith is, in fact, 1/2 Native American and definitely offensive. When reached for comment, a NCAA official declined to comment on the validity of those claims, citing “an ongoing investigation.”
Other targets of the NCAA crackdown will be Oklahoma State’s Cowboy mascot – because he represents the violent, oppressive enemy of “Indians” in many backyard games, the University of Colorado’s use of a live buffalo – at one time the main sustenance of many Native American groups – as its mascot, and ticket “scalpers.”