Friday, October 13, 2006

... Lose a Few

The relentless pursuit to purge ethnic, particularly Indigeneous American, references from sports team logos has reached a new height of eye-goggling stupidity.

My wife, a W&M alum, received this letter several days ago:

Dear Fellow Members of the William & Mary Community:

I write concerning the National Collegiate Athletic Association's dispute with the College over our nickname and logo.

During the past several months, the NCAA has reviewed William & Mary's athletic insignia [scroll halfway down, but be sure no women, children, or horses are around] to determine whether they constitute a violation of Association standards. On the more important front, the Committee concluded that the College's use of the term "Tribe" reflects our community's sense of shared commitment and common purpose. Accordingly, it will remain our nickname. The presence of two feathers on the logo, though, was ruled potentially "hostile and abusive." We appealed that determination. The decision was sustained and has become final. We must now decide whether to institute legal action against the NCAA or begin the process of altering our logo.

William and Mary's response starts out bravely:

I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for the College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. The Association has applied its mascot standards in ways so patently inconsistent and arbitrary as to demean [by which he must mean heaping stupidity upon idiocy] the entire undertaking. Beyond this, William & Mary is widely acknowledged to be a principal exemplar of the NCAA's purported, if unrealized, ideals.

[Insert laudatory W&M athletic program academic statistics here] Meanwhile, across the country, in the face of massive academic underperformance, embarrassing misbehaviors on and off the field, and grotesque commercialization of intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA has proven hapless, or worse. It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order.

Then, just as I was expecting to read of a stirring call to donations, the W&M president suddenly goes gallic:

Still, in consultation with our Board of Visitors, I have determined that I am unwilling to sue the NCAA to further press our claims. There are three reasons for my decision. I'll explain them in order.

First, failing to adhere to the NCAA logo ruling would raise the substantial possibility that William & Mary athletes would be foreclosed from competing at the level their attainments and preparations merit.


Second, given the well-known challenges that this and other universities face -- in assuring access to world-class education, in supporting the research and teaching efforts of our faculties, and in financing and constructing twenty-first-century laboratories and facilities -- I am loath to divert further energies and resources to an expensive and perhaps multi-faceted lawsuit over an athletic logo.


Third, the College of William & Mary is one of the most remarkable universities in the world. It was a national treasure even before there was a nation to treasure it. I am unwilling to allow it to become the symbol and lodestar for a prolonged struggle over Native American imagery that will likely be miscast and misunderstood -- to the detriment of the institution.

Far be it from W&M to uphold that great American symbol and tradition: prominently displaying the single-digit salute to those who richly deserve it.

I know this decision will disappoint some among us. I am confident, however, that it is the correct course for the College. We are required to hold fast to our values whether the NCAA does so or not.

Except where holding fast to those values might be inconvenient.

In the weeks ahead, we will begin an inclusive process to consider options for an altered university logo. I invite you to participate. And I am immensely grateful for your efforts and energies on behalf of the College.

No doubt the inclusive process will exclude those two feathers from which we must forever avert our gaze.

Go Tribe. Hark upon the gale.

Unless the gale becomes, you know, stormy and wavy and inconvienient and stuff. Then by all means trim sales, turn tail, and run.


Gene R. Nichol
College of William & Mary

In almost all cases, sports team logos seek to earn by association some aspect -- typicall bravery, speed, or strength -- of the icon they display [The Mighty Ducks being the sole, glaring, perplexing, exception. No insult implied to our proprietor, so far as he knows.]. So except for the odd icon that serves more as caricature and may well deserve to be struck or altered, most sports icons are tributes to admirable qualities.

What, even with your eyes scrunched up real good, is hostile and abusive about a couple of feathers?


Blogger Duck said...

The duck is a fine animal to emulate! Does water roll off a tiger's back? No, you just end up with a wet, disgruntled kitty. I will ignore this one transgression of rational judgment on your part Skipper, but this counts as your Mulligan.

Are there any actual Indians taking part in the protest of W&M's team name & logo? Or is this fueled 100% by white guilt?

October 13, 2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

There must be some, just for the money (lecture / speaking fees / donations). No group is without its con-men.

I know that even for UIUC and their mascot (quite a bit more blantant than two feathers) the actual Amerinds were mostly indifferent and the few that cared were more positive than negative. It didn't matter a bit to the protestors. The open racists were less condescending to the Amerinds than the protestors.

October 13, 2006 5:04 PM  
Blogger David said...

The most interesting case is the Florida Seminoles. The Seminole tribe has explicitly backed the school, saying that they want the nickname kept. So far, the NCAA has held that that is completely irrelevant.

As for W&M, appeasement probably is the rational course here.

October 14, 2006 9:10 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It's graduated to being a university, but back when I was a sports writer and collecting team names, the ne plus ultra was the Eastern Washington State
Teachers College Fighting Savages.

October 14, 2006 10:20 AM  
Blogger M Ali said...

I have an online aquaintance who is part of the legal team petitioning the Redskins to change their name. He gives his opinions on the Seminoles in the link below also.

October 14, 2006 2:59 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


As for W&M, appeasement probably is the rational course here.

It seems to me a ringing call to donations would quickly fill the coffers, whereupon W&M could loudly sue the NCAA, exposing that tremendously corrupot organization for the laughinstock it is.

October 14, 2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

BTW, so far as I know, this is wholly on the NCAA.

There don't appear to be any Amerinds willing to be seen whining over bird feathers.

October 14, 2006 6:34 PM  
Blogger David said...

Ali: The link asks for a user name and password.

October 15, 2006 2:09 PM  
Blogger M Ali said...

Oh yeah, you have to register.

Here's a compilation of his thoughts:

"To be honest, I don't want my people to be remembered as romatic warriors fighting for their land. It's too simple.

The wars Indians fought against Europeans were a fight for survival. And even when the military engagements stopped, the war raged on. The fact that Indian culture exists today at all is an incredible accomplishment given what they faced for nearly 100 years. The government essentially gave its best shot at annhiliating everything Indian about the Indian. They succeeded in some respects, and spectacularly failed in others.

To say it was simply about land is the kind of misconception that popular culture breeds about Indians.

My ancestors weren't romantic warriors anymore than those who fought in WWII were. This "noble savage" bullshit is incredibly patronizing. The noble savage is the reason why white people get to tell me I should feel honored that someone would name anything after my people at all. And that's not just bullshit, it's racist.

I find the term "redskins" offensive because it encourages a racial stereotype about my heritage. In the same way that many of your parents grew up watching John Wayne shoot Italians dressed in red paint and feathers in western films, the logo, the chants, the name, all represent to me a misconception about where Indian people come from, and who they are. What I find most offensive about the trademark is that it encourages a form of ignorance about Indian people. As I point out, for several million people in the D.C. area, the only contact many of them will ever have with an Indian is what they see on the backs of starter jackets and what's represented by the logo and the name "Redskin."

I see no honor in dumbing down, objectifying, and selling a culture, particularly when the culture being victimized in this case sees no benefit or has no control from the widespread use of their image. And it's particularly nasty with Native Americans (American Indians, or Indians as I call us). We're really the only culture that's commonly marketed, and profited upon, based on a nasty stereotype.

To put it more succinctly, the offensiveness lies in the fact that such images contribute to the overall ignorance of society about a people that deserves more than what they've recieved. Indians have rarely, if ever, had control over their own image. My lawsuit is about reclaiming that. It's about making sure that when people think "Indian" they don't think "redskin" or "tomahawk chop" or "American Spirits" or "feathers." It's about respect. And that respect should only be learned by other people, but by other Indians as well. That a non-Indian makes billions of dollars from an image to which he's contributed nothing to and to which he's completely ignored the pleas of the people he exploits to stop, angers me a great deal.

It's sad. And I often wonder how intelligent people can look at this name and think I should be honored because they're calling me a nigger.

"If Florida State really wanted to honor Indian people, and the Seminole in particular, they wouldn't do the halftime dance, or the flaming spear at the 50 yard line bullshit. That's not Seminole. That's not even Indian. To say because the Seminole tribe approves it, makes it ok, is bullshit in my opinion.

The tribe doesn't get to sell out all other Indians for a scholarship and some publicity for their casino. Not only does that show a spectacular lack of self-respect for who they are as a people, but it also gives ammo to people that use them as example for all Indians to follow. They don't work closely on many things. The tribe doesn't approve of the halftime celebrations or the traditions associated with the red sambo they put on the field, the University has the final word on what happens there. This "mutual" agreement crap I hear is nothing more than two scholarships they give to Seminole tribal members to attend FSU for free. That's it. FSU doesn't pump money into developing the Seminole community, they don't give proceeds from merchendise sales to the tribe. They give two scholarships. That's not cooperation, that's Manhattan for a sack of beads.

Excuse me for not selling the last thing white men haven't taken from me for more than a few scholarships to a fourth-tier university.

If FSU wanted to really honor the Seminole tribe, why don't they rename the university "Seminole State University." Honoring a tribe or a people doesn't come from mocking their traditions and wearing the equivalent of blackface. Honor comes from deep-seeded honest respect. And how FSU celebrates that can in no way be described as respect, either for me, or the Seminole people.

enerally, I think no, the rights of a particular tribe don't trump the rights of the people as a whole, particularly when it concerns the use of images I find derragotory. But, I would never force the Seminole tribe to reconsider it's decision, because how one views themselves is an inherently personal thing, and should stay that way. This means I wouldn't bring a similar lawsuit to what I'm bringing now against FSU. But I would, if I could (and I can't), try to influence the tribal leaders to take a stand against the school or to at least renegotiate what they get out of the deal, which is basically nothing. When you think about it, they could have FSU's balls in a vice if they wanted to. And there's still an opportunity to do so.

That doesn't, however, stop me from thinking that as a tribe they've made a mistake, that they've sold out their image for next to nothing, and in doing so have sold out all of Indian country in a lot of ways. But you're right, it is their decision to make and I respect their ability to make that decision for themselves. I just think it's incredibly stupid, undignified, and shows a tremendous lack of self-respect.

Also, the thing with the horses (in terms of the tribe having them) is true. I seriously doubt, however, that Osceola rode on the back of horse carrying a flaming spear. Nor do I think he did the tomahawk chop at a pivotal moment in battle.

I'm also not particularly concerned with say the Kansas Chiefs, who I think you can fairly assess as being much more broad in their use of the term. As far as I know they don't use a tomahawk chop chant or emphasize native imagery as part of their name, also, Indians don't have a cultural monopoly on the term "Chief" nor on the term "Warrior." It's when those names are used in conjunction with native images, the mocking of traditions and chants that it becomes a problem for me. The Redskins and the Cleavland Indians on the otherhand are unmistakably linked to native images.

My stance on the fighting Irish is this: If I were an Irish Catholic, I would not want to be depicted as a fighting leprechaun. But that's probably just my own sense of self-respect talking. They are Catholic after all. Also, the Irish choose not to give a shit about Notre Dame's mascot. If they did, I'd support them in their cause. I wouldn't have much standing seeing as how I'm not Irish, but I'd support a people (read: ethnic group) in their right to have control over how they are publically depicted, particularly when used for private gain.

To your other points, those aren't really comparable to "Redskin" because none of those things represent ethnic groups, save possibly the Vikings. But it's much more than logo or name that's wrong, it's also the chants and team traditions that are attached to that name. I'm not really sure if the Vikings have a mighty Viking call they do at pivotal moments in games, but the Redskins sure do. It's a mockery of what white people think Indians do, based largely on things they saw in spaghetti westerns.

I'm talking about an ethnic group, and one that has been historically discriminated against, and one which has never had control over their depiction in society. That's why when I go places where there are few Indians I get questions like, "So do you live in Tipis?" "Do you have to pay taxes?" "Do you own feathers?" "Do you have warpaint?". The way non-Indians view Indians has been heavily influenced by popular culture, and many of those depictions were flat-out racist.

It's difficult to respond to this because in order to do it, I have to call upon family experience and my experience growing up Indian. And I don't want it to sound like "You can't understand this because you're not Indian," but in a few ways it's true. You don't have to look too deeply at the Redskins name to see that it's racist. I don't even have to try hard to be offended by it either. And I don't look for vicious stereotypes in mascots. I do look for offensive stereotypes of Indians on commercial products. And I don't have to attach a significance that "never existed or hasn't existed for quite some time", because it's significant in modernity. Take the story I illustrated above of my father being called a redskin and his sisters being called squaws. That happened 40 years ago. Just because 40 years ago lots of Southerners called black people niggers, does that mean it's any less offensive because 40 years have passed?

And I don't care if the association is "inadvertant" or that the name is an attempt to honor my people. Because I don't see honor in mocking my appearance or the appearance of Indians in general, and I don't see honor calling the team a name used by white people to belittle my father and his relatives.

Do you really think that a fan's attachment to a team name is more important than the fact that the team name is a racial slur? Really? That a team's 'character' is more important than undignified nature by which it commodifies, mocks, and exploits an ethnic minority that as recently as 80 years ago was trying to be exterminated? There are hundreds (thousands?) of team names out there that aren't a direct affront to the cultural integrity of an entire ethnic minority.

I'm not really in the business of naming teams or mascots. And what the football team in Washington decides to do once they have to move from Redskins is up to them. But I would think it would make sense for them to move away from Indian imagery and pick something benign, but something also tells of their past.

Well, if the sports team wanted to be fierce, there are plenty of other ways to say "I'm fierce" than saying "I'M AN INDIAN!" or Cujo or whatever it was you stated. My opponents constantly bring up the fact that I should be honored, not offended by the team name because it's connected with ferocity or nobility. The idea of the noble savage was a white man invention to create apathy for the Indian's "inevitable destiny."

It's bullshit.

And to your question, I think I finally understand what you mean by it. And I'd say the difference between calling your team the Spartans and calling the team some native warrior name are the stereotypes that come with being an Indian today. And as I pointed out before, I think there is a dignified process for honoring Indians, particular tribes, or their warriors, it's just that none of the schools or organizations around today do that, and the Redskins could never justify it.

October 16, 2006 4:48 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

When I think of Indians, the first thought that comes into my mind is not a brave warrior with a flaming (or any other kind of) spear.

It's a sneak creeping through the woods to bury his tomahawk in the head of an inoffensive old woman hoeing corn.

M. Ali's friend is right to complain that Americans have a wrong idea about how Indians were. He's wrong to think that a correct idea would make them look better.

The idea that 'all Indians' are together is also antihistorical. Even Indian admirers like Francis Jennings have to admit that.

Not that I care one way or the other. The discussion is interesting for what it reveals about how people think about things.

In Hawaii, the football team was called the Rainbow Warriors until a few years ago -- because we have a lot of rainbows and because the Hawaiians of old like to think of themselves as warriors.

This is as antihistorical as the Indians' notion of themselves. The vast majority of old Hawaiians were just farmers. The warrior caste was as savage and repellent as all other savage warrior castes.

The team is still the Warriors, but they dropped the Rainbow. Seems other teams were taunting them as pansies because homosexuals had adopted 'rainbow' as an icon. (I don't know if they have, but that was the story.)

There is a kickboxer in Hawaii named Dennis Alexio who fights in a ti-leaf skirt, which is more authentic than a flaming spear but not much.

Anyhow, he was going to fight a hulking giant from somewhere in the Commonwealth who, in the hype before the bout, called Alexio a poofter. 'Only a poofter wears a skirt.'

Alexio didn't say anything but he pounded the giant into the canvas in the first few minutes.

October 16, 2006 12:09 PM  

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