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Rethinking Indian Mascots

College athletes still take the field to compete as Redmen, Braves, Indians, and, yes, even Savages (thank you, Southeastern Oklahoma State University). Is that wrong? And mascots still dress up as phony Chippewas, Choctaws, or Fighting Sioux. But haven't they been doing that for decades?

The NCAA may have underestimated the furor it would create by announcing Aug. 5 that it was banning the use of native American nicknames or mascots by teams playing in post-season tournaments and prohibiting those teams from hosting tournament games if they don't drop the names.

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The ruling affects just 18 schools which still have Indian nicknames. Hundreds of others have dropped their native American team names.

Leading the objectors is Florida State, a national Division 1 powerhouse and home of the Seminoles and mascot Chief Osceola. Florida State argues that its moniker and mascot have the support of the Florida Seminole tribe, but Oklahoma Seminoles officially condemn Indian mascots.

Last week, NCAA president Myles Brand sought to clarify the edict. He pointed out that the NCAA can't actually force a change. And the time between now and Feb. 1, when the decision takes effect, is meant to allow schools to discuss their unique situations. If they choose, they can appeal and show that their use of an Indian name is neither hostile nor abusive.

Having an appeal process wisely recognizes a need for case-by-case review, as opposed to a blanket ban. As Florida's Seminoles indicate, not all native Americans find the practice degrading. But large groups of Indians, such as the National Congress of American Indians, do object. With that in mind, the NCAA appears to be going beyond a genuflect to political correctness, to doing what's right.


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