Tonight, the Florida State Seminoles basketball team will enter the Alamodome in the NCAA Southwest Regional, and a massacre will break out. The students will be covered with war paint. The band will play their fight song, which is literally titled, “Massacre.” The fans will tomahawk-chop themselves silly. (Their mascot, Chief Osceola, would ride in on his horse Renegade and jam a war-spear into center-court, if the stadium would only allow it). And the NCAA, and fans around the country, will smile and say, “My, that’s colorful!” Then, on Saturday night, the University of North Dakota hockey team will skate into the NCAA Midwest Regional. The atmosphere will be more cool and restrained. There will be no war paint, no scary music, no violent hand gestures. But since the team is called the Fighting Sioux and has an Indian warrior on its jersey, the NCAA will shake its head and many people will say, “Those racists!”
Why the discrepancy? For the past ten years, the NCAA has made numerous rulings to punish schools that use “hostile and abusive” imagery based on native themes, UNLESS THE SCHOOL CAN GAIN APPROVAL OF THE RELEVANT TRIBE. Many schools like the Illinois Fighting Illini have succumbed to the pressure and altered their name (partially because no native Illini remain to approve anything!). But other schools have fought to keep their historic equity intact. In the case of North Dakota, the school has successfully gained the approval of one of the two major Sioux tribes in the state, but cannot get the second tribe to vote on the matter. So the NCAA is demanding they drop the name, and a protracted legal case has gone all the way up to the Governor’s office.
What about FSU? Back in 2005, the school received the endorsement of the Seminole tribe of Florida, whose leader said it would be an honor to be represented by the school. But here’s the rub: unlike the Sioux people who remain largely consolidated in North Dakota, the Seminoles were splintered in the 1800’s, with some going to Mexico and a larger number being forcibly removed to become an independent nation in Oklahoma. And nobody ever asked THEM what they think about it. If they had, some might agree with Oklahoma council member David Narcomey, who said, “I am deeply appalled, incredulously disappointed … I am nauseated that the NCAA is allowing this ‘minstrel show’ to carry on this form of racism in the 21st century.” Some critics have concluded that this is a classic case of Florida State coercing the approval of “good Indians” in Florida and ignoring the wishes of more numerous and traditional Seminoles elsewhere.
And the tortured drums of political correctness and legal dispute roll on….The next items on the NCAA’s agenda: forcing Notre Dame to gain the endorsement of the Irish government, and addressing the complaint of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands that the Union College Flying Dutchmen should stay on the ground.