Following the Tribe’s thrashing of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville last week, I would like to raise our rather dormant mascot issue. During the pre-game festivities, U.Va. displayed a fight between Cavman and a “member” of the Tribe on the video screen. The Tribesman, however, was portrayed as an angry, Native American midget wearing a “Tribe” embroidered loincloth. This imagery goes beyond offending the College, and directly attacks the very character of Native Americans. If the NCAA forced the College to change its nickname in the 1990s, then forced the College to remove the two innocuous feathers from its logo, why should opponents be permitted to utilize degrading, hostile imagery to attack the College?
This question certainly revolves around the clout wielded by larger D-1A schools within the realm of collegiate athletics. Florida State still utilizes the Seminole nickname with the “sanction” of both the Seminole tribe of Florida, Inc. and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. This sanction apparently permits FSU to have Chief Osceola ride out during sports events and plunge a spear into the turf. While the Seminole Tribes themselves may sanction Florida State’s actions, other Native American tribes may not. Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek and the Fighting Illini nickname endured criticism until the school decided to drop the mascot on February 21, 2007.
Nevertheless, the school still uses the Fighting Illini nickname. Division-1 powerhouses such as these are able to wield enough clout to fend off criticism, while smaller schools such as Southeast Missouri State, Miami University (OH), and The College of William and Mary have essentially been forced to accede to the NCAA’s rulings.
If the College must adhere to the NCAA’s ruling that it drop all mention of Native Americans and all related imagery—no matter how innocuous, so should all of the College’s athletic opponents. Failure to do so creates a double standard that clearly punishes the College, while allowing its opponents to create derogatory depictions of the Tribe.