Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Red Scare (Wall Street Journal)

WSJ.com OpinionJournal

LEISURE &ARTS
Red Scare

Today's Puritans attack Indian mascots.

BY KENNETH L. WOODWARD

European intellectuals have long complained of excessive moralism in American foreign policy, politics and attitudes toward sex--the lingering effect, as they see it, of our Puritan heritage. But if they want to spot the real Puritans among us, they should read our sports pages.

Last week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced that it would ban the use of Native American team names and mascots in all NCAA-sponsored postseason tournaments. If a team turns up wearing uniforms with words like "Indians," "Braves" or similar nicknames the association deems "hostile and abusive," that team will be shown the locker-room door. Surely I was not the only reader who noticed that this edict came out of the NCAA's headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Already, one university president, T.K. Weatherall of Florida State, one of 18 colleges and universities on the Association's blacklist, is threatening to take legal action--and I hope he does. Florida State's athletic teams are called the Seminoles, and the university says it has permission from that tribe in Florida to use that name. Not good enough, counters Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA's new vice president for "diversity and inclusion." "Other Seminole tribes," she claims, "are not supportive."

One might suppose that any organization with an Office of Diversity and Inclusion would welcome mascots and team names reflecting the Native Americans among us. But no, the NCAA is on a moral mission--the less sensitive might call it a warpath--to pressure colleges and universities to adopt its standards for iconic correctness. Cheered on by moralizing sportswriters like George Vecsey of the New York Times, Jon Saraceno of the USA Today and the entire sports department of the Portland Oregonian, which will not print "hostile" nicknames of teams ( e.g., it calls the Washington Redskins "the football team from Washington"), several member schools have already caved in.

Stanford was the first major university to drop Indians as its athletic moniker; that was 30 years ago, when group identities and sensitivities were the most inflamed. Stanford's teams are now the Cardinal, presumably for the color of their jerseys. But who can tell?--it may have hidden ecclesiastical connotations. Marquette changed from Warriors to Golden Eagles, despite continuing complaints from alumni who find it as difficult as I do to imagine why the Warrior image would offend any Native American. After all, their forefathers weren't wimps.

Perhaps the most craven decision was that of St. John's University, which changed from the Red Men to the Red Storm. In both its former and current names, "Red" referred to the color of the St. John's uniforms--not to Native Americans, of which there are very few in Queens, N.Y. The change is reminiscent of a decision by Cincinnati's pro baseball team, which changed its name from Reds to Redlegs during the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s.

Interestingly, the NCAA has made an exception for the Braves of the University of North Carolina-Pembroke because the school has a tradition of enrolling Native American students. Maybe this will clear the way for Dartmouth's Big Green to restore its Indian mascot and team name, Indians, which the school dropped in 1969. After all, Dartmouth was founded by Eleazar Wheelock, a Puritan minister, for the purpose of providing "Christianization, instruction and education" for "Youth of the Indian Tribes of this Land. . .and also of English Youth and any others." The college still offers a major in Native American Studies and since 1970 has graduated some 500 American Indians.

The NCAA, thank God, has no control over pro sports teams and their chosen totems. But among sportswriters there are voices that echo the same faux moralizing by demanding name changes from the Atlanta Braves, Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks and Cleveland Indians. In a typical column, Mr. Saraceno recently lamented the abject failure of "activists" to get Cleveland's baseball team to drop its logo, Chief Wahoo, which, he opined, "is probably the most outrageous, blatant symbol of racism in sports today."

I don't know where Mr. Saraceno was in the early '60s, when racism wore a human face. I was a civil-rights reporter in Nebraska then and remember visiting American Indian reservations where I saw kids wearing caps festooned with the Milwaukee Braves' logo and--yes--with Chief Wahoo. In 2002, Sports Illustrated published a survey of American Indians living on and off reservations. More than eight in 10 approved the use of Indian names and mascots for college and pro teams; a slight majority even approved of the clearly questionable "Redskins."

Moralistic sportswriters need to distinguish between Native American activists and paternalistic surrogates. In Cleveland, for example Mr. Saraceno's unnamed activists are primarily officials of the United Church of Christ, an ultra-liberal Protestant denomination that moved its national headquarters there from New York in 1990 and immediately began a campaign against the Indians and Chief Wahoo. As it happens, the church is the denominational descendent of the old New England Puritans, now committed to diversity and inclusion. I was raised in Cleveland, and these interlopers don't seem to know or care that the baseball team took its current name in 1915 to honor popular outfielder Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian from Maine who batted .313 lifetime. His teammates called him "Chief."

As a matter of policy, the NCAA now encourages schools to imitate the University of Iowa, which won't allow its Hawkeyes to compete against nonconference schools that "use Native American nicknames, imagery or mascots," although "Iowa," itself, is a tribal name. Where does that leave the University of Illinois--a school in the same athletic conference, the Big 10--whose teams are called the Fighting Illini and whose gridiron mascot is Chief Illiniwek? Illiniwek--the word signifies "man"--was the name of an Indian confederation that the French called Illinois. If "the Fighting Illini" is "hostile and antagonistic" in the eyes of the NCAA, must the university, too, change its name? And the state as well? What about North and South Dakota? Or community colleges in Miami, Cheyenne, Pueblo and Peoria--Indian names all--not to mention a city named Sioux? Where do embedded history and folkloric iconography end and negative stereotyping begin?

Here's a suggestion: If the NCAA and other latter-day Puritans are concerned about social prejudice, they ought to investigate Notre Dame. Surely the name for its athletic teams, the Fighting Irish, is a slur on all Irish-Americans. The label derives from anti-Catholic nativists who reviled the poor and mostly uneducated Irish immigrants who came to these shores in the mid-19th century--a drunken, brawling breed, it was said, who espoused the wrong religion. When the fabled Four Horsemen played football for Notre Dame, the team was called the Ramblers. In 1927, the university officially adopted the Fighting Irish, thereby transforming a pejorative nickname into something to cheer about.

If there are Native Americans who feel that Indians or Warriors or Braves is somehow demeaning, they might reflect on the Notre Dame experience. And if the NCAA really cares about diversity and inclusion, it ought to establish an office of Indian Affairs to help Native American athletes with collegiate aspirations. Meanwhile, all paleface Puritan surrogates, beginning with the NCAA, should butt out.

Mr. Woodward, a contributing editor at Newsweek, is writing a history of American religion and culture since 1950.

3 Comments:

Blogger Sports Junky said...

I agree,

I love NCAAB. and recently I have bought stock in it. Not like real stock on Wall street, but a stock market that is strictly for sports.

You have seen it? Its pretty cool. You buy issues for your favorite teams and you make real money. Not like a fake stock simulator. I cash out Dividends each time the team wins. Also I can sell my team stock when the price goes up.

check it out if something like this interests you.
heres a link http://allsportsmarket.com
you can log in and check it out for free..

They just released IPOS for NCAAB this week, so there are alot of good deals there.

Hope that helps
-Erik

1:11 PM  
Blogger Smallman said...

I skim a lot of blogs, and so far yours is in the Top 3 of my list of favorites. I'm going to dive in and try my hand at it, so wish me luck.

It'll be in a totally different area than yours (mine is about free scrapbooking) I know, it sounds strange, but it's like anything, once you learn more about it, it's pretty cool. It's mostly about free scrapbooking related articles and subjects.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Home Based Business Opportunity Seeker said...

Charming blog. Your site was off the chain and I
will return! When I get the time I look for blog like
this one.
You got me! I will check out your profitable home based business blog a.s.a.p!

11:56 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home