NCAA Moves to Curb Indian Mascots in Sports

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The NCAA says it will ban the use of American Indian mascots in post-season championship play. The move comes after weeks of review. Melissa Block talks with Welch Suggs, associate director of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Bye-bye, Illini; so long, Seminoles. The NCAA said today it will ban the use of American Indian mascots or nicknames in postseason tournaments. The NCAA's Executive Committee, meeting in Indianapolis, said it would not allow hostile or abusive mascots or nicknames on team uniforms or clothing. The NCAA said it has no authority to ban these mascots in the regular season or at schools. NCAA officials said at least 18 school nicknames are unacceptable. They include the University of Utah Utes, Southeastern Oklahoma State University Savages and Carthage College Redmen. Joining me now from Atlanta is Welch Suggs, who covered the NCAA for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He's now associate director of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. WELCH SUGGS (Associate Director, Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics): Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: And, Mr. Suggs, what's behind this decision by the NCAA?

Mr. SUGGS: The NCAA has asked its schools with Native American mascots to take a look at whether those mascots could be considered demeaning to Native Americans or to people elsewhere. This is an issue that's gone on for many, many years, and a number of schools have already changed their mascots either as a result of this review or before.

BLOCK: It's interesting. This will only affect postseason tournament play not the regular season. How much of an impact will that have?

Mr. SUGGS: Well, it could have a considerable impact. It is something that is going to cause a great deal of stir for certain communities. Florida State University, for example, put out a release saying that they are going to pursue possible legal action against the NCAA. And the NCAA is already not very popular in a lot of quarters because people see them as a vast conspiracy to bring down their schools. I'm sure that institutions with Native American mascots are only going to see this as more proof of that.

BLOCK: I'm trying to figure this out. It wouldn't be just the mascot, who might pop out during half-time and dance around the floor, it would also mean what the uniform itself says. In other words, it couldn't say `Redmen,' it couldn't say `Illini.'

Mr. SUGGS: Exactly. And also, going back to the Illini example, Illinois has an icon of a traditional Indian chief wearing a headdress that's often on its shorts or on other parts of the uniform. And they'd be required to take that off before they could play in a postseason tournament.

BLOCK: How did the NCAA decide which Native American names would be considered hostile or abusive and which ones were OK?

Mr. SUGGS: Well, pretty much the only ones that were OK were schools that were known as the Warriors but had abandoned any kind of imagery or terminology from Native Americans. Hendrix College in Arkansas is one example of that. But everything else and the ones you mentioned--the Choctaws, the Chippewas, other terms of the Warriors, the Redmen, the Braves and so forth--all those were pretty much considered offensive. The one other example would be the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, which is actually an institution founded by Native Americans, the Lumbee Indian tribe

BLOCK: There was one other sort of interesting case, which was the Florida Seminoles, which apparently had gotten permission to use that name from the Seminole tribe, but that wasn't enough.

Mr. SUGGS: Correct. The NCAA said that other Seminole tribes, I believe those in Oklahoma, did object to the nickname.

BLOCK: What are schools going to do with this decision? How do they put it into practice if they want to stay in these tournaments?

Mr. SUGGS: Well, several schools have already decided, even before this was announced, that they were going to change their mascot. Others are saying that they're going to fight. So I think this is a story that's going to keep going for a little while.

BLOCK: And we should mention that this also eventually will affect cheerleaders, dance teams, band uniforms, paraphernalia, all those things.

Mr. SUGGS: Exactly. Everything that you can find on the sideline.

BLOCK: Mr. Suggs, thanks so much.

Mr. SUGGS: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Welch Suggs covered the NCAA for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is associate director of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

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