NCAA Column: Use of Indian mascots shows lack of respect

The NCAA News
September 28, 1998

Guest editorial -- Use of Indian mascots shows lack of respect

BY CHARLES WHITCOMB
NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee

The charge of the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee is to increase opportunities for ethnic minorities in intercollegiate athletics, and our primary focus is the education and welfare of the ethnic minority student-athlete. The committee also oversees the enhancement of opportunities for ethnic minorities in coaching, athletics administration, officiating and within the NCAA governance structure.

The committee was established to enhance the NCAA commitment to foster racial equality and diversity in collegiate athletics. Thus, we strongly support the elimination of Indian names and mascots as symbols for our member institutions' sports teams. We also support the elimination of Native American rituals for entertainment purposes.

Member institutions with Indian mascots that promote Indian caricatures and mimic ceremonial rites do not comply with the NCAA's commitment to ethnic student welfare. The use of these symbols and mascots is not respectful to Native American culture and is considered by that culture to be sacrilegious. No other race of people in America is used for mascots or nicknames for sports teams.

The continuation of this practice sends a clear message that administrators, who have the responsibility of nurturing our students, have an insensitive disregard for the native culture of this country.

For Native Americans, dance is the ceremonial embodiment of their indigenous values and represents their response to complex and often profound historical experiences. Their dance depicts a vital means of surviving culturally and a powerful means of asserting cultural identity, fulfilling family and community obligations while celebrating the group.

American Indian dance is performed throughout America, in venues from the most traditional and private spaces to those that are very public. Thousands of dances are performed every day -- not to satisfy paying audiences or fans, but to assure the continuation of ancient customs, to honor deities and each other, to associate with friends and kin, and toaffirm an Indian identity.

The half-time show that mimics this heritage denigrates the culture and demeans an entire people. This is not entertainment to those who are a part of the culture.

Institutions that have continued to use stereotypes of Indians and justify their actions as a way to honor the Native American have failed to listen to the protests of the Native American population.

We must all listen and learn to respect what all cultures respect, not just what some of them cherish. Institutions that have heard the request and eliminated the symbols -- institutions such as Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Marquette University, Syracuse University, Miami University (Ohio), the University of Oklahoma and Bradley University -- recognized the significance of this concern. I applaud these and other institutions that have stopped the egregious abuse of the culture of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

The efforts of the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee serve to encourage and support collegiate environments that welcome and respect differences. We believe that accountability for the success of our student-athletes and the successful welfare of the student body as a whole must include our efforts to educate our students to cultural sensitivity. If we offer our students anything less, we have hindered their growth.

When we choose not to speak out against the perpetuation of disrespectful images of Native Americans, we fail to respect ourselves. Far too many of us have denied our insensitivity and have tried to justify our actions with a delusional belief that we do not dishonor Native Americans with these stereotypical mascots. Instead, these mascots are perpetuating negative stereotypes of an ethnic group and diminishing the right and opportunity of Native Americans to appropriately identify their culture. It is simply another form of institutional racism.

To end this debauchery requires an extraordinary commitment to devote our efforts to identify the abuse and eliminate it.

The NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee joins with organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, the Inter-Tribal Council of United Indian Nations in Oklahoma, the National Rainbow Coalition, the NAACP, the Center for the Study of Sports in Society and others in advocating the elimination of Indian mascots and ceremonial rituals in conjunction with collegiate athletics.

Our charge as administrators in higher education is to develop our students so they can maximize their learning experiences to become effective contributors to our society. This is an impossible task if we continue to dishonor Native Americans by using them as mascots and conducting parodies of their sacred ceremonies for entertainment purposes.


Charles Whitcomb is chair of the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and is faculty athletics representative at San Jose State University.