Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell, Fighting Sioux

I open by quoting myself, over six years ago:
Quick: what's the biggest crisis facing the NCAA? Graduation rates? Steroids? Illicit payments to players? Coaches trying to strong-arm faculty into changing grades for athletes who can't be bothered to go to class? The repercussions of the NBA's decision to impose a minimum age requirement? The fact that some programs produce more convicted felons than they do graduates? Tutors actually writing papers and even taking tests for athletes? The fact that an undefeated Division I football team has been denied the right to play for the national championship two of the last three years... or that a team whose only regular-season loss was to the #1 team in the country lost its BCS bid after beating a bowl team on the road in a rainstorm by “only” ten points (it would have been more except that 1) there was an outrageously bad referee's call and 2) they chose not to run up the score at the end of the game)? No, apparently the big crisis is Native American mascots.
The details have changed, but the NCAA’s absurd priorities haven’t.

I listened via computer today to the radio broadcast of today Kansas-North Dakota basketball game. It was, according to the KU announcers, at least, the last game UND will be allowed to play as the “Fighting Sioux,” because the NCAA still has nothing better to do with their time and resources than to impose Political Correctness on colleges and universities.

Certainly the disaster that is the BCS isn’t a problem. Nor is the considerable evidence that last year’s Heisman Trophy winner was bought and paid for by the eventual national champion. Nor are the proposals to expand the basketball tournament to a ridiculous number of teams, requiring players to spend yet more time out of the classroom for the sole purpose of lining the coffers of the NCAA, the networks, and the athletic departments. Nor is the confusion about eligibility, nor the underhanded attempts to circumvent the rules. Only the specifics of the real issues have changed, in other words, but at least this year’s BCS fiasco is different than the one I wrote about in that earlier post. The NCAA’s go-to choice for avoiding real issues, however, remains absolutely unaltered.

What makes this even more preposterous than the quotidian stupidity of the NCAA and apparently everyone with any position of authority in it is that virtually no one with a legitimate stake in the matter wants the change. The university and its fans like the symbol. Moreover, the Sioux mascot is, unlike, say, the grinning buffoon that is the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo (or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s pugnacious leprechaun, for that matter), a simple and respectful emblem.

According to Time’s Sean Gregory,
Spirit Lake, the Sioux reservation closest to the University of North Dakota's campus in Grand Forks, overwhelmingly backs the name. The tribe argues, and evidence seems to support the case, that Spirit Lake and another local Sioux reservation, Standing Rock, actually gave UND its blessing to use the nickname in a religious ceremony over 40 years ago.
In other words, the people who are supposedly insulted by the mascot… aren’t. In fact, they’re suing the NCAA for violation of religious rights.

Here’s Gregory again:
Fighting Sioux supporters argue that the NCAA is violating their religious rights. The Grand Forks Herald reported on July 21, 1969, that “a band of Standing Rock Sioux formally gave UND teams the right to use the name of ‘Fighting Sioux’ for their athletic teams.” [Spirit Lake member Frank] Black Cloud insists that Spirit Lake members also took part in this ritual blessing. (UND recognizes that a ceremony took place but says the intent of it remains unclear.) So why should a current tribal council, the NCAA or anyone else reverse the wishes of the elders who are so respected in Native American culture? “If we let an outside entity dictate to us how we should feel about our sacred ceremonies,” says Black Cloud, “what does that say about us?”
True, when the university sued the NCAA over the latter’s interventionist nannyism, the settlement gave UND three years to secure the blessing of the two Sioux tribes closest to the Grand Forks campus: Spirit Lake and Standing Rock. Of course, the latter had already done so in 1969, and even if Black Cloud is wrong about Spirit Lake joining in, a full tribal vote overwhelmingly supported maintaining the Fight Sioux symbol for the university. “‘UND has allowed us to participate and have input on some of the Indian programs they have developed,’ says John Chaske, a Spirit Lake member. ‘The school deserves to use our name. We should take pride in that. There's nothing wrong with that.’”

Ah, but despite that religious ceremony four decades ago, the Standing Rock tribal council voted against the name, and apparently refuse to put the issue to a full tribal vote, where the results might be different: “‘Aw, man, it's not right for people not to have a say,’ says Archie D. Fool Bear, a member of Standing Rock. Fool Bear says he has petition signatures from 1,000 Standing Rock residents opposing the nickname change, and he is confident his side would prevail in a full vote.”

Of course, other people who have no particular interest have weighed in. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, for example, has voiced its objection. If I remember my history correctly, this is rather like the British Prime Minister condemning a depiction of Frenchmen that the folks in Paris, Calais, and Marseilles think is fine. Black Cloud’s response: “We, as tribal members and Sioux, we don't tell other tribes what to do. We would expect that same respect from them as well.” Good luck with that.

I’d quote myself again:
I come at this issue from three perspectives which some people don't have. I have some Native American heritage: I'm two generations removed from having enough Algonquin to qualify for tribal membership; I've always been at least as proud of that part of my bloodline as I am of any of the rest of the hodge-podge of English, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, Scots, and whatever else which comprises my ancestry. As an undergrad I attended a college which, because it started as a school for the Native American population of western New Hampshire, was for many years represented by an Indian symbol, although its official use stopped a year or two before I matriculated.

I am a former resident of Lawrence, Kansas, where there are two universities with sports teams: the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Haskell Indian Nations University Indians. That's right, at a school that might reasonably be expected to be as sensitive as any to portrayals of Native American populations, they're not the Haskell Indigenous Peoples Thunderstorms or the Haskell Native American Rottweilers: the word “Indian” appears in the school name, and it is the symbol of the university.
But, of course, the NCAA adopts a profoundly racist attitude in its attempt to be inclusive (or whatever the pet phrase is these days). Essentially it is this: actual members of the Sioux nation aren’t intelligent or worldly enough to know they’re being insulted. That linkage—unlike, say, the Fighting Scots of Monmouth College—is “hostile” and “abusive” because a bunch of people who have never come closer to Sioux culture than buying a cassette tape of Siouxsie and the Banshees (anybody but me remember them?) say so.

One more snippet from days gone by:
Of course, only Native American imagery is affected. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a representation which really does perpetuate a negative stereo, is unaffected. So is the oxymoronic Fighting Quaker of the University of Pennsylvania. “Warriors” are OK if they're not Native Americans: apparently Anglo-Saxon Warriors are fine. So are Spartans, Trojans, Vikings, Aztecs, and other no-doubt caricatured representations of real civilizations.

But give the NCAA time. They’ll start coming after parodies of professions next: the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Purdue Boilermakers, Santa Barbara Gauchos, and Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Sooners of Oklahoma will be forced to adopt a less euphemistic mascot and become the Land Thieves. Anyway who lost a loved one to the UDF will be offended by the Syracuse Orangemen. Then, perhaps, the NCAA will start arguing that real people's lives have been disrupted by natural phenomena, so the Miami Hurricanes, Tulane Green Wave, and Iowa State Cyclones will have to go. And just wait ‘til the feminists really start thinking about the implications of the Kennesaw State Hooters or the Oregon State Beavers.
Yeah, what that guy said.

Happy New Year, everyone. And if you haven’t done so already, please vote for the Curmie. Details here.

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