One of the last real fights about Native American mascots in college sports is coming to a close. Residents of North Dakota voted in June by a margin of 67 percent to 33 percent to essentially allow the University of North Dakota to phase out its “Fighting Sioux” name and mascot.
The NCAA has had a policy on “offensive mascots” for some time, one they choose to selectively enforce. The University of North Dakota has been one of their main targets since the policy was implemented, which created a hard-line group within the state that absolutely, categorically refused to agree to change the name. In the wake of this latest defeat, some of those hard-liners are even talking about an amendment to the state’s constitution. This move is wildly unpopular and unlikely to pass, however.
The actual vote was about a law that allowed the university to change the name (it got a little weird in the state legislature for a while), so the vote was actually 67 percent of the state voting to not repeal that particular law. This is a sound defeat for those who want the school to remain the Fighting Sioux, who grossly overestimated the popularity of their cause. While they may have had a point about NCAA enforcement, no one is going to step in and say the use of a Native American nickname and logo couldn’t be insensitive enough to cause problems.
Which of course means it’s a win for the NCAA. The long-standing policy against Native American nicknames has won its most major battle, and it probably won’t need to fight another one. Most other schools using Native American nicknames and imagery either have waivers from the NCAA (San Diego State) or the approval of the local tribe (Florida State, Utah).
That said, the continued use of some Native American nicknames only proves the hypocrisy of the policy. While it was created in order to eliminate offensive imagery and nicknames, there is no fundamental difference between Chief Osceola (FSU) and Chief Illiniwek (Illinois) but only one of those mascots still exists. Both took Native American traditions very seriously and went out of their way to portray the people in question fairly and in a non-offensive manner. The University of Illinois realized that keeping their mascot was still kinda, sorta racist, so they eliminated Chief Illiniwek and just stayed the Fighting Illini. Mascots like that have been called the equivalent of blackface, and even with the approval of local tribes might be in poor taste based on historical events.
South Dakota does not have a student dressed up as a Native American like Florida State, though they do have a logo similar to (and possibly less racist than) the Chicago Blackhawks’ logo. Logos can be easily changed, and the North Dakota issue came down solely to their failure to procure the endorsement of any of the Sioux in the area. Had they done that, they would probably be staying the Fighting Sioux, though a logo change may have happened anyway.
Not that the NCAA cares about that. Yes, FSU has a close relationship with the Seminole Nation. However, the NCAA could easily have enforced a real policy and told them to lose the nickname anyway. Instead, they gave them a waiver and decided to split hairs with other schools regarding which mascots/logos/nicknames were offensive and which were not. This inadvertently created an unsavory, and wholly unnecessary political situation whenever a school needed the endorsement of the tribe whose name they were using.
If they NCAA truly cared about the issue of offensive mascots, they they would have created a blanket policy that applies to all member institutions. This whole mess with North Dakota and Florida State et al. could have been avoided if the NCAA had the balls to enforce the rule instead of getting technical about each school’s situation. But of course they’ll jump right in with no investigation of their own and utterly destroy Penn State, pretending that they are always resolute when it comes to disciplining member schools. Instead, they just look like cheap shot artists and bullies with no real power and without the guts to stand up to the more powerful schools.
It appears the NCAA’s sole purpose is to create the illusion of control over college sports when in actuality they do very little to affect change, reform, or enforce rules. Respect to the citizens of North Dakota for stepping in to settle this farce.