The news that Florida State’s Seminoles won’t have to choose between their good name and invitations to officially sanctioned postseason tournaments is good news for Florida State and the Seminoles, but it doesn’t say much for the even-handedness of the “wise men” of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
By NCAA decree, schools with “hostile” or politically incorrect nicknames, such as “Indians” or “Braves” or “Warriors,” won’t be allowed to call themselves by their own names, or display their logos and other insignia, at postseason events.
“The staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor,” the NCAA, backing down under threat of a Florida State lawsuit, said this week. “The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree.”
This is playing favorites. The Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois, the Utes of the University of Utah and the Fighting Sioux of the University of South Dakota, for just three examples, are still on the list of evil, or at least the list of banal incivility. So are 18 other schools that call their teams merely “Indians.” We hope the NCAA can resolve these cases before its headquarters are moved from Indianapolis, which was, of course, named to honor the people who first lived in (dare we say it?) Indiana. Since the NCAA insists that using Indian names dishonors “Native Americans,” the wise men are surely determined to find another home. They’ll have to be careful: a majority of the names of the states are of Native American origin.
The NCAA got itself into a briar patch, as busybodies always do, but we can suggest a way out that should satisfy everyone. Our Indians — or “Native Americans,” since the red-hots (we did not say red-skins) — no longer have any use for the word “Indian.” So the offending schools could keep their nicknames simply by announcing that when they say “Indians” they’re talking about the original Indians on the Asian subcontinent. It wouldn’t then be any business of the busybodies. Our quarterbacks and linebackers, in fact, would never have been called Indians in the first place if Christopher Columbus, that dead European white male, had not been suffering sailing ship-lag. Ship-lag was not as severe as jet-leg but it was severe enough to make Chris, groggy and out of it, think the dark-skinned man in a loin cloth who greeted him in the New World was a maharajah from the Old World, out for a day at the beach.
India, as every schoolboy is supposed to know, is one of the oldest and most sophisticated of the world’s cultures — resilient, inventive, visionary, and far more intellectually inclined than some of the denizens of the athletic departments of our finest universities. Ferocious in battle, too, as any number of foes could attest.
Not only that, but as anyone who has ever called a “help number” to sort out problems with cell phones, laptops and other electronic gear could tell you, the call is usually diverted to a helpful voice in Delhi, Bombay or Lucknow. Certain Indian logos could be easily altered; a chief in a feathered headdress could become a winsome lass with headphones, a tomahawk would become a cell phone with antenna extended.
“Indian” is a proud and glorious name and it’s a pity that certain Native American “activists,” with wooden heads as empty as refugees from a cigar store, can’t take a compliment. If the Native Americans don’t want the word, let’s just give it back to its original owners, and for good. Let’s not be Indian givers.