Fla. State Protests NCAA Ban on Seminoles The NCAA has announced it will ban 18 schools from competing in post-season tournaments if they don't change their Native American-related nicknames. Florida State University is the largest school affected by the change, but FSU's president says their Seminole mascot is anything but offensive -- and he has the support of the state's Seminole tribe.
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Fla. State Protests NCAA Ban on Seminoles

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Fla. State Protests NCAA Ban on Seminoles

Fla. State Protests NCAA Ban on Seminoles

Fla. State Protests NCAA Ban on Seminoles

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The NCAA has announced it will ban 18 schools from competing in post-season tournaments if they don't change their Native American-related nicknames. Florida State University is the largest school affected by the change, but FSU's president says their Seminole mascot is anything but offensive — and he has the support of the state's Seminole tribe.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

College football teams are sweating through summer drills right now, but thanks to a recent NCAA ruling, 18 of those teams, teams like the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota, the Savages of Southeastern Oklahoma State and the Utah Utes, could soon be competing with different nicknames. That's because the NCAA says it will ban any team with an aggressive and hostile Native American nickname from postseason play. Many schools are preparing to fight for their names, and the NCAA has already said it will reconsider the ban on one, the Florida State Seminoles. NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

If you happen to be leafing through a copy of the Flambeau, Florida State University's school newspaper, back in 1947, you'd see a list of possible mascot names the students were voting on.

Mr. T.K. WETHERELL (President, Florida State University): And they had, like, the Statesmen, because we were in Tallahassee.

BURBANK: T.K. Wetherell is Florida State's president.

Mr. WETHERELL: I don't remember who the others were, but they were a group of names.

BURBANK: A group of names that included, among others, the Crackers, the Swamp Rats, the Pollywogs and the slightly vague Sunshiners. Also on that list was the eventual winner, the Seminoles.

Mr. WETHERELL: It's part of our tradition. It's part of the symbol of Florida State. And it transcends 250,000 alums. It transcends generations who have come to Florida State.

BURBANK: The name comes from the Seminole tribe of Florida, a group the US government fought three wars against in an attempt to move them out of the state of Florida. Most of the Seminoles did move to Oklahoma, but a small group of about 300 went deep into the Everglades, fighting a guerilla war until the government finally gave up. FSU supporters say they are honoring the unconquered spirit of the tribe by featuring a warrior's face as their athletic logo.

Mr. WALLY RENFRO (Senior Advisor to NCAA President Miles Brand): Imitation isn't always the highest form of flattery.

BURBANK: Wally Renfro is a senior adviser to NCAA President Miles Brand.

Mr. RENFRO: In the eyes of those who are being imitated, how does that group feel about all of that? Because at the end of the day, that's what's really important.

BURBANK: After what it says were years of requests from Native Americans and even non-Native Americans to look into the mascot situation, the NCAA identified 33 schools with potentially offensive names. Some of the schools are crying foul, but the NCAA's Wally Renfro stands by the ruling.

Mr. RENFRO: This isn't a decision that was reached in the vacuum. It is a decision that involved the input from Native American tribes across the country as well as input from the member institutions themselves.

Mr. MAX OSCEOLA (Council Member, Seminole Tribe of Florida): I know they didn't come to our Tribal Council and ask our opinion.

BURBANK: Max Osceola is a council member with the Seminole tribe of Florida. He says his tribe actually likes the fact that Florida State uses its name, and a quick tour of the parking lot of the tribe's headquarters backs him up. Nearly every car or truck has some sort of FSU decal or decoration.

Mr. OSCEOLA: It's a mutual respect. They respect the name, our culture, our unconquerability that we've had historically. And that's part of their presentation.

BURBANK: That presentation includes Osceola, a man dressed as a traditional Seminole warrior who rides a horse onto the field before football games and throws down a spear at the 50-yard line. The Seminole Tribal Council has repeatedly voted to affirm Osceola and the use of the name. The jury is still out at the larger Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, where so far, they have not officially opposed or supported the use of the name. Many of the affected schools have called the NCAA's move political correctness run amok. Wally Renfro says his organization knew going in that this would be a fight.

Mr. RENFRO: Doing the right thing is not always popular. It's easy to label difficult decisions and unpopular decisions as political correctness. But I think that a careful examination by reasonable people who look at all the facts will understand that treating people with respect is doing, in fact, the right thing.

BURBANK: If the NCAA does prevail and Florida State needs some ideas for a new nickname, there's always that original list of candidates from 1947 to consult. Can you say Florida State Galloping Gophers?

Mr. WETHERELL: (Chuckles) No, I can't imagine that, and I don't think it's ever going to come to be.

BURBANK: T.K. Wetherell can't and says he's ready to take the matter to court if he has to, to make sure Florida State is known as the Seminoles for a long time to come. Luke Burbank, NPR News.

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