Saturday, August 13, 2005

This is where the party ends

Full Disclosure: I root for the NFL team which has the single most offensive team name in sports. And then I spend baseball season looking for garb without a shocking racist caricature on it. I wish they would change, but I don't do much about it.

So let me say that I think the NCAA is getting there with its decision to prohibit colleges with racist mascots from hosting championships.

(It's also worth pointing out that the only thing I know about any college sport is "fear the turtle.")

I don't think the NCAA went far enough, but it's forward progress. I don't believe that these names honor and commemorate, at least not more than they oversimplify and diminish. Banning these names and images from the most profitable and popular moments of the season ought to make an impression on the people who know that big college sports is more about money than education.

Now, I have long been uncomfortable with the mascot at the University of Notre Dame. (I'm not crazy about the Iona College Gaels either.) I don't like the stereotype of the "fighting Irish." It oversimplifies the contributions of my ancestors, and it commemorates a part of our history which isn't always something to be proud of. I've seen plenty of hot Irish heads boil over, including my own, and I'll tell you, it's not pretty. Nor is it something likely to help you win football games.

So here's my question, NCAA chancellors and presidents. Are they part of your policy too? The press release casts a wide net when it says "racial/ethnic/national origin". How do I go about making my case?

18 Comments:

Blogger John B. said...

Joe:

I have resisted posting on this topic on my own blog for a lot of reasons; but you are one of the first people that I have run across that actually agree with the NCAA ruling, and the only one I have seen who wants it taken a step further.

I have several problems with the NCAA ruling, too numerous for a comment box.

Some of the major problems I see with the ruling:

1) Why just ban these names/mascots in the post season? Why not the regular season, too? A tad bit inconsistent, isn't it? I suspect the NCAA would lose in court if they tried to enforce the ruling during the regular season; the NCAA can do so in their own playoff, because they run it.

2) In the case of Florida State (one of the 18 schools directly affected by this ruling), the Florida Seminole tribal council actually supports the Seminole nickname and charicature, and they went public last week in saying so. If the nickname doesn't bother the very people it 'slanders', then why does the NCAA care?

3) Chief Wahoo (Indians) is a racist protrayal...it is in the classic 'Sambo' tradition. I don't think that you saw or will see too many indians that look like that. I do not think that most other universities are negatively portraying indians. Dressing in indian 'war garb' shouldn't be offensive, it is honorable and factual historically, at least the Seminole and Ute (Utah) mascot wear is accurate. Neither tribal group is bothered by it, so again, why should the NCAA care?

We have gotten too PC in this country. Next PETA will try to ban teams named tigers, lions, bears, etc. I'll bet that the steer at U. of Texas who is a mascot lives better than a lot of people in this country. UGA, the Georgia bulldog, lives like royalty, and they bury each dog individually at the field.

I just think that the NCAA is misled, they should stick to the crappy job they do of enforcing recruiting violations.

Now that I have spouted off...you see why I don't post on this!

5:41 PM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

John,

You've now met two people who like the NCAA ruling.

The NCAA, unless I'm mistaken, doesn't have control over regular season matchups--only playoff matchups.

Dressing in war garb for sports is offensive, I believe. Would we have a team named the "Firefighters" to honor 9/11 heroes? How about "Doughboys"? I don't want my real heroes cheapened by having their symbols represent my fake heroes. That's why an Indian in war garb bugs me at a sporting event. Further, some of the routines at Native American-mascot schools (chants, dances, etc.) are knock-offs of religious ceremonies--analogous to having a team called "Christians" or "Catholics" where fans use incense and give Communion to cheer on their teams.

Your point about Seminoles, a sanctioned name, is well-taken, however. I believe an exception can be made there.

Otherwise, good job, NCAA.

8:49 PM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger John B. said...

Where do you draw the line? What if I say, just for the sake of arguent, that I am offended by 'Hoosiers', because I think that it makes us here in Indiana look/sound like hicks (there are a lot of Hoosier jokes out there across the country). Or maybe 'Boilermakers', because I think that it promotes alcoholism? What about a team named the 'Giants', aren't we discriminating/making fun of people who are abnormally tall?

It can go very quickly into the NCAA having to settle with any group who decides to complain about any mascot or nickname, with a well thought out or founded argument or not. That is how this PC stuff goes, from the truly offensive (Chief Wahoo, a charicature that was in fact created from the Sambo character, and was meant in mockery of indians) to the accepted (Seminoles accept the FSU charicature).

I just don't buy it. A lot of these schools were started in areas traditionally inhabited by indians. People would not have chosen nicknames if they didn't respect the inhabitants of the area; if I don't respect you, I sure as hell am not going to take on your nickname.

And what of the 'Fighting Irish', a name near and dear to my hometown's team and my heart? They were originally the 'Ramblers' until the 1920's, and then the name 'Fighting Irish' was tagged on them in a newspaper article, and it stuck. Why didn't the NCAA put ND on their offender list??? Why not the Wake forest 'Demon Deacons'? A double standard at work?

The NCAA could enforce this in the regular season if they really felt strongly about it...they enforce sanctions on regular season TV contracts and bowls (yes, both contracts that they are a part of), for recruiting violations, why not take a stand here if they are serious and do the same??? Me suspects the almighty dollar is at work here.

I would love to see this stuff play out in the courts; I will bet that the NCAA loses, just as different groups have lost when they have taken Major League teams with indian names to court. Especially on the Seminole issue...This smacks of the NCAA trying to placate some groups that have complained in the past/present.

8:51 AM, August 14, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

John: Thanks for presenting the other side. I think you make a really good point about "why just the postseason"... yes, that's a weak position to take. Obviously, I think they should ban them all season long. But I'll take a baby step from a bureaucracy.

I don't understand how the NCAA is going to lose in court, though. The NCAA is a voluntary organization. They can set rules for their own members. I don't see where the courts have a place to get involved in that. If you don't like the system, goodbye and good luck.

I'm not comfortable with the NCAA giving out free passes on a one-by-one basis. The policy needs to be broad. Otherwise, schools can just shop around until they find somebody they can buy off. Drunk kids in the stands dressing up as "Indians" is just not OK, not even if they say "But I'm a _Seminole_!"

As far as mascots and nicknames in general go, a couple of points. You ask where the line is, and I think "racial, ethnic, and national origin" is a good and holdable line. We can leave U.S. geography out of it, we can leave local occupations out of it.

As near as I can tell, no Ohio State Buckeye has ever gone on to become a chestnut tree, so I think we can leave non-human mascots out of it too. This is really the heart of the argument: I have a real problem with lumping ethnic and racial groups in with buckeyes, bulldogs, and badgers. I don't think we "honor" any of those non-humans by using them as mascots, and I think we reduce humans by using them in that way.

I am inclined to say that religious mascots are OK at religiously affiliated schools (i.e. Wake). I guess I have to make the same exception for tribal colleges if they want tribal mascots.

Technically, John, _all_ NCAA schools are in areas traditionally inhabited by Indians. Maybe they should all have to have Indian names. There's a compromise for you!

11:28 AM, August 14, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:04 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

(deleted previous post due to a stupid omission of a word)

John--

You didn't address one of my arguments.

How is dressing in feather headdresses (a sacred symbol) to support a sports team called the "Indians" or "Savages" (yup...SE Oklahoma University still uses that name) any different from, say, wearing a Pope hat to support the sports team called the "Catholics"? How is a mascot doing a bogus war dance to cheer on his team different from a mascot giving bogus Communion to cheer on his?

I'm against both, and for the same reasons.

I agree with your question...where do you draw the line? Is there any discernible difference between the Louisiana-Monroe "Indians" and the Louisiana-Monroe "Negroes"? How about "Jews"? I don't see one. It seems to me the any line drawn, therefore, must exclude "Indians."

3:13 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

Another Redskins fan chiming in.

IMHO, the NCAA has more important things to worry about on the Division I football front. Like, say, blowing up the BCS and implementing something novel called playoffs so that the best team can be determined by play on the field as opposed to statistical nonsense provided by Intel.

Joe and TRP, your points and goals are laudable. Really. But every time this issue comes up, I hear my late Mother's voice in my head saying the following: "Tommy, as you go through this life, there are only a few things you'll be able to count on: Death, Taxes, the Love of Family and Friends, and that you will be offended by something or someone."

We live in a country where the KKK can take out a full page in your local paper (whether your paper would print the ad is another matter). The ACLU fought for the rights of a Nazi group to march in Skokie, IL. It amazes me that folks who trumpet the importance of the First Amendment seem to withdraw that support when confronted by Chief Wahoo. Remember folks, the Freedom of Speech is supposed to protech ALL ideas, not just the ones that you like.

As much as I dislike FSU, I find myself drawn to their side of the argument. And they might have a case, but they are a public institution. Remember what happened to VMI back in the 1990s: they were forced to accept women because they took public money. That court case will be very interesting.

So, how do I feel about the name of my favorite sports team? Well, the name is not offensive to me. I understand that it is offensive to others. But my response is the same as its ever was: so what? You are under no obligation to support my team, in fact you may actively root against my team at any and all opportunity. Many newspapers around the country have stopped using their name and have just called them Washington. And I don't have a problem with that.

The Redskins will probably change their name in my lifetime. If we can just keep our fight song (with lyric changes), then I'll accept any name change gladly.

8:21 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Spoon,

Major flaw in your argument. The First Amendment protects you from the government.

It does not protect you from me.

I don't want the Feds to come in and order these names changed. I don't believe they do constitute civil rights violations. I still believe they're just wrong.

Make an argument that the NCAA is a de facto governmental organization, and I'll wrap myself in Amendment 1 and defend the mascots to the last man. But as near as I can tell, it's a voluntary organization, and a club gets to decide how its members conduct themselves.

I do agree with you that it would be a damn shame if we lost our fight song, though.

(I also agree that the NCAA has other things to worry about on this very same front - like, say, Div 1 athlete graduation rates.)

9:10 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

It does not protect you from me.

Joe, that is what I meant to say. Thanks for clearing that up. As TRP said in his commentary on the San Francisco sports talk ballyhoo, the marketplace of ideas and speech should be free and open. That marketplace must include words like "caribbean", "latino", "Redskins", and "Seminoles."

Me, I could give a rip about college football in the first place. Until those newfangled playoffs are implemented, Div I football will remain a sham. I just adore seeing the NCAA tangle itself up yet again.

9:43 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Alison said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:24 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Alison said...

tommyspoon said (somewhere upthread):

So, how do I feel about the name of my favorite sports team? Well, the name is not offensive to me. I understand that it is offensive to others. But my response is the same as its ever was: so what?

So, would you still root for them and sing along with the fight song if they were the Washington Niggers?

11:09 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

So, would you still root for them and sing along with the fight song if they were the Washington Niggers?

No, but doesn't that argument wander into straw man territory?

If they were the "Washington Niggers" I would probably root for the team but not buy their merchandise or game tix. Oh, and while I'm doing that, I'm probably participating in organized protests against the name and demand that it be changed. I have little doubt that given the demographic makeup of the WDC metropolitan area that would happen in under two shakes of a lamb's tail.

But, let's get back to the current situation. What do we do about that pesky name? Well, we could adopt Tony Kornheiser's suggestion and change the logo to a redskin potato while keeping the name. (The subversive in me likes that idea, but c'mon that's just silly. I'm not rooting for any potato unless it's a Yukon Gold!)

We could just change the name over completely. "Monuments" sounds great for a football team, but the song would have to go. And that's my biggest problem with the whole issue: "Hail to the Redskins." I don't want to let go of that song. I just don't. Irrational? Yes. But so's NCAA Division I football. I've been working on rewriting the lyrics to somehow come up with a different name, but I've come up dry.

I just don't want what happened to the Bullets to happen to the 'Skins. The Wizards? C'mon, that's lame. And don't get me started on the Nationals.

For the moment, I'm willing to hold onto the Redskins, as offensive as it is. You can chastize me for that if you wish. I'll accept your criticism.

12:00 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Natalia said...

Oddly enough I am sitting on the fence on this one. Yes, I do believe certain things may be offensive but where does this stop. What people find offensive can be so diverse and all-encompassing. Are we gonna go after everything else too? I thought this was about freedom. Maybe they should llok at putting limits on future names...but the ones already in place. Not to mention the money these people will spend getting everything renamed. And yet, I have to respect them for making a decision os somthing and standing their ground... dunno..undecided.

-N

12:48 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Alison said...

No, but doesn't that argument wander into straw man territory?

If they were the "Washington Niggers" I would probably root for the team but not buy their merchandise or game tix.


No straw man. I am seriously not seeing how one horribly racially offensive epithet is acceptable to you, but not another. Sounds like a distinction without a difference.

2:59 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Alison said...

While we're at it, the current "demographic makeup of the WDC metropolitan area" is only what it is, and not composed of various and sundry native tribes, because the great-grandparents of the white part of that population drove them away. It does not make it more acceptable to sling around racial epithets, just because there aren't enough of the marginalized group left in the area to bitch about it.

5:41 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Alison: Probably because Tom and I were brought up in households where one of those words could be used acceptably, and the other never could. I have to admit, I know Washington's name is offensive, but it doesn't offend me like the other does.

As far as freedom, for Tom, Natalia, John, and all: I continue to argue that any school or group is legally free to choose any name they like. Just like I am legally free to tell them their choice is bad, and that I can choose to shun them for it.

And I think that the NCAA is legally free to do the same. And, what's more, that they're right to do so.

Sometimes, the marketplace of ideas does put out the "no shoes, no shirt, no service" sign.

5:42 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

Spoon quoted me above:

"As TRP said in his commentary on the San Francisco sports talk ballyhoo, the marketplace of ideas and speech should be free and open. That marketplace must include words like 'caribbean', 'latino', 'Redskins', and 'Seminoles.'"

You're both mischaracterizing and misapplying my argument here, Spoon.

Mischaracterizing: Racial terms are different from racial slurs. "Caribbean" is a racial (well, geographic) term. "Redskin" is a slur. If Larry Krueger refers to the "niggers/spics/redskins/kikes/honkies/pick any other epithet who swing at slop," well, I'd accept TV stations bleeping it out. "Caribbean" isn't in that category. In short, "Redskin" doesn't fit into your list above. It's a slur. Alison's example fits. You're rejecting some slurs but embracing others.

Misapply: This situation is wildly different from Krueger's. A commentator using the term is different from a team--or especially an educational institution--using it as a mascot(and all the accompanying dances, images, etc.) It's demeaning for an entire race to be considered a mascot, don't you think? The Eastern Oklahoma State Savages? How the hell does that promote anyone's marketplace of ideas? How about the high school in Illinois whose mascot was the "Chinks" until the 1980s?

Also, you argue that the marketplace "must contain" these terms. This argument makes no sense, as its logic says that there MUST be a team named after every objectionable epithet above and any others we can come up with. Why must this happen with team names? We can't be afraid of using the words in discussion, or quoting them when they're used improperly, but why must they be used as mascots?

7:07 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

I know better than to even attempt to join the discussion, but laud Joe for a post that elicited 18 comments and plenty of thoughtful conversation.

4:37 PM, August 16, 2005  

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