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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

William & Mary's logo dispute

The College of William and Mary is appealing the NCAA's decision to censure the school's logo.

Two things about this case are notable. First, the logo in question does not portray the stylized head of an Indian man, as does the UND logo and Florida State Seminole logo. Instead, the William and Mary logo simply includes two feathers -- but that, in connection with the school's athletic nickname of "the Tribe," renders it unfit, the NCAA ruled in this letter.

The letter also declares that the school's actual nickname of "the Tribe" is OK for various reasons.

Earlier, the NCAA had ruled that the University of Utah Utes' nickname and logo are acceptable, too, because of the formal approval of the Ute Tribe's leadership. But click back and forth between William and Mary's logo and the University of Utah's logo. They're identical.

How can one be acceptable while the other is hostile and abusive? There's an arbitrariness about the NCAA's rulings that nickname supporters are smart to take note of, even though the NCAA itself is smart to point to "tribal support" as providing a crucial difference.

The other interesting point about the William & Mary situation is the school's formal appeal document. Written by the college's coordinator of legal affairs, the letter echoes UND President Charles Kupchella's own arguments and rightoeus indignation on the subject, and skillfully dissects the arbitrariness mentioned above. This passage is notable in that way:

"Because the NCAA has recognized exceptions to its policy and has now placed an official stamp of approval on uses of Native American nicknames, mascots, and imagery in the cases of Florida State University, the University of Utah, Central Michigan University, and Catawba College, it is sending a decidedly mixed message. Put another way, the NCAA is now a complicit partner in the practices it claims to condemn. (emphasis added). These inconsistent and illogical rulings also undermine the ability of rational and fair-minded people to understand and accept the NCAA’s position with respect to institutions such as William and Mary and seriously call into question the credibility of the NCAA as a fair and impartial arbiter of its policies."

So is this one, which attacks the NCAA's claim that by restriciting its sanctions to championship games, the NCAA is recognizing its member universities' institutional autonomy:

"The sanction imposed is unprecedented in its severity, especially when compared with NCAA sanctions in other areas. For example, a member institution that cheats in the most flagrant fashion imaginable – by violation of generally straightforward rules that are documented at length in the NCAA’s manuals – typically will face a sanction lasting only a year or two and applying only to the specific sport involved, with all other teams representing the offending school remaining eligible to participate in NCAA championship competition.

"By contrast, violation of the NCAA’s policy on nicknames, mascots, and imagery – which is not included in the NCAA’s manual and the enforcement standards and procedures for which are undisclosed – results in a perpetual sanction for all the member institution’s teams. ...

"In addition to the ban on use or display of allegedly hostile or abusive uniforms or 'paraphernalia' at national championship competition, in a little noticed provision of the NCAA’s policy, the NCAA Executive Committee recommends that member institutions consider not scheduling regular season or non-conference competition with 'offending' institutions. Simply put, the NCAA Executive Committee supports and encourages its member institutions to boycott other member institutions" (again, emphasis added).

In his Sunday column, Herald publisher and editor Mike Jacobs repeated the Herald editorial-board's suggestion of a two-year cooling off period, in which "UND would forgo the lawsuit and seek support for the nickname among Indian people." Fighting Sioux nickname supporters should adopt that plan, Jacobs suggested, because they should understand that "without the support of Indian people, the nickname never will be legitimate. ... even if UND wins the lawsuit."

I wholeheartedly agree. But I also think opponents of the Fighting Sioux nickname should support that plan, because it includes the key provision that UND abandon its lawsuit. Nickname foes should favor this because as is becoming clear, UND might just win this thing in court. It has a case against the NCAA, as attorney general Wayne Stenehjem declared and the William and Mary appeal document essentially confirms.

And if UND wins in court, then the nickname will be etched in the university's "cultural granite" as deeply as it is in the Engelstad Arena's flooring and walls. The situtaion will not be "status quo ante," meaning as it was before the NCAA's action. Instead, UND will have emerged triumphant from a risky and expensive battle with a powerful national organization.

I'd guess that such a victory would cement the nickname at UND for decades to come.

(Hat tip on the William and Mary news:; scroll down to the 10:57 a.m. note for the entry.)


Blogger Grand Forker said...


You are correct that the William & Mary appeal makes a very strong case against the NCAA. Many of the same points have been made by UND's administration. However, I don't understand your nervousness about the possiblity of UND winning the case in court. A win for UND would not only be a victory for free expression (something journalists should support), but it would also prevent the almighty NCAA from meddling where it has no business.

Perhaps the NCAA might get back to being the member-driven organization it claims to be and stick to college athletics rather than social engineering. Would that be so bad?

You also say: "...if UND wins in court, then the nickname will be etched in the university's 'cultural granite' as deeply as it is in the Engelstad Arena's flooring and walls."

I don't think you're giving UND enough credit. While a win in court would probably establish UND's legal right to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, I believe the university's leadship is pragmatic enough to recognize that there might come a day when the name and logo does more harm than good.

When that day comes, UND will move to change the name. But it will be because people associated with the university are convinced it's in UND's best interest, not because some self-important NCAA windbag sitting behind a fancy desk in Indianapolis fancied himself the "catalyst for social change," put a gun to UND's head and said, "Change or else."

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NCAA says "...imagery that has been traditionally linked to Native Americans (e.g., eagle feathers, arrow-heads)..."
Anyone look at the back of a dollar bill lately? They are full of eagle feathers and arrow-heads. NCAA should talk to the fed and ask them to change the imagery on the dollar bill too!

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NCAA should stick to athletics and not social engineering.

What's next, is the NCAA going to vacate its offices in Indian-apolis and leave the state of Indian-a? Of course, then colleges in states, cities, or towns with names of native origin will have to vacate their premises.

Frankly, I don't understand this push to forcefully delete native american references from our culture. Unless the actual goal is to diminish their place in our collective memories and push native american story into the forgotten past.

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Anonymous Dave, Cleveland said...

Your comment in the last paragraph that states you don't understand appears to be quite accurate and says all you need to say. And while a lot of people share your lack of understanding, there are many more that are aware of what can be insulting to an ethic, racial or religious group other than their own. It's called diversity awareness, tolerance, sensitivity - it's called understanding, and you either get it or you don't..We have a very insulting logo for cleveland indians baseball and MLB lacks the courage to deal with it. When I became aware of how this insulted Native Americans I pledged not to support baseball here in anyway until the logo was done away with. If people simply do what they know is right there would be no debate here. Gee, would that mean leaving all this wasted BS behind and moving on to bigger issues?

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