Culturally Correct Team Names

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - August 31, 2005
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So Florida State has successfully played its hand against the NCAA and will be allowed to keep its team name. Good for them. Earlier the NCAA ruled that teams with nicknames it deems offensive to Native Americans would not be allowed to use those names during any post-season contest. Also banned were offensive images on uniforms. Florida State, with the blessings of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, fought back saying the name is, and always was, meant to honor the native people of the state.

The school is not alone. Central Michigan University, who added the name Chippewas in 1942, has gotten outstanding support from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. In a press release, Tribal spokesman Joseph Sowmick said, “The rich relationship that the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has with CMU cannot be determined by an outside entity without contacting the institution and the government involved.”

Let us not forget that the University of Hawaii also found its way onto the initial list until the obvious was pointed out by athletics director Herman Frazier: That the Warriors nickname refers to native Hawaiian and not the indigenous peoples of the continental U.S.

Because a school decides to use a term like warrior, it does not automatically make the name offensive. By its strict definition, warrior simply means a person taking part in or experienced in battle. The U.S. Army has its Warrior Ethos as a guiding principle. Its four tenets being: Always place mission first, never accept defeat, never quit and never leave a fallen comrade. Pretty good rules to go by for an Army — or nearly any group endeavor.

It would be ignorant to think that certain nicknames, such as warriors, are chosen with no regard to native cultures. It would also be stupid to ignore the fact that some nicknames, and especially images, can be quite offensive. The Cleveland Indians logo comes to mind as well as the names of the Southeastern Oklahoma State University, the Savages, or the Redmen of Carthage College. Institutions should take it upon themselves to examine their nicknames and images to determine for themselves if what they are doing is wrong — Stanford changing from Indians to Cardinal for example. Over the years, colleges and universities have done just that and changes have been made without the interference of a weakwilled committee that likes to be heavy-handed in minor areas, but recoils at any opportunity to real in big-time football and men’s basketball.

In a statement, NCAA senior vice president Bernard Franklin said, “The NCAA remains committed to ensuring an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who participate in and attend our championships.”

As well as it should.

But if CMU wants to help educate the people of Michigan and honor a nation of people whose influence and culture stretched from Minnesota to Ontario, Canada, it should be allowed to do so without the impediment of the NCAA.

Names like Braves, Warriors and Indians may not be offensive by themselves, but they also offer no real support to the people the schools claim to represent. Institutions that really want to pay homage to Native Americans should do it right. Establish scholarships for the needy and create museums and cultural exchanges to help educate their students about a subject that has too often been reduced to caricature.

Like, for example, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

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