NCAA Takes Hard Line On Mascots

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 6, 2005

The NCAA will prohibit college athletic teams that use Native American images deemed "hostile or abusive" from hosting postseason events or displaying the symbols during championship competition.

The policy, announced yesterday, will affect at least 18 schools the NCAA said use derogatory references, including the Florida State Seminoles and the Illinois Fighting Illini, two schools whose programs consistently have competed in NCAA championship events.

Walter Harrison, the NCAA Executive Committee chairman and president of the University of Hartford, said: "We're trying to send a message, very strongly, that we do not think these types of mascots are appropriate for NCAA championships, and to say to the institution that you have the autonomy to deal with it as you wish."

Florida State President T.K. Wetherell said in a statement that the university is "stunned at the complete lack of appreciation for cultural diversity shown by the" NCAA and that he intends to pursue "all legal avenues to ensure that this unacceptable decision is overturned."

The NCAA Executive Committee concluded that a school may choose any mascot it wants, Harrison said, but the NCAA will control what nicknames, mascots or images are publicly displayed during its 88 championship events. However, college football's Bowl Championship Series, which includes the sport's four most lucrative bowl games, is not controlled by the NCAA.

"We would hope they would follow in the same procedures," NCAA President Myles Brand said, "but they would have to make that decision themselves."

Beginning Feb. 1, the NCAA will bar any of the 18 schools from hosting championship events. For events whose sites have already been scheduled at one of the schools, the NCAA will require schools to take "reasonable steps" to cover up references to the mascot or nickname.

The issue remains particularly controversial regarding Florida State, because the Seminole Tribe of Florida has expressed support for Florida State's use of its nickname and related symbols.

"That the NCAA would now label our close bond with the Seminole Tribe of Florida as culturally 'hostile and abusive' is both outrageous and insulting," Wetherell said. " . . . It is unconscionable that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has been ignored.

"The rules as we understand them would have us cover the Seminole name and symbol as if we were embarrassed, and any committee that would think that is a proper and respectful treatment of Native Americans should be ashamed."

As NCAA officials point out, however, not all tribes support Florida State's use of its nickname and mascot, the horseback riding Chief Osceola. In fact, the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma has expressed opposition to the school's use of symbols.

"It came to our attention that there are other Seminole tribes . . . that are not supportive," said Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA's vice president for diversity and inclusion. "So it is a very complex issue."

Yesterday's announcement came after four years of research by the NCAA, prompted partly by the debate in recent years over whether to stage championship competitions in states that condone the Confederate flag.

In November 2004, the NCAA requested that 33 schools submit a self-study to examine the use of Native American images on their campuses. Brand said yesterday that not every use of a Native American nickname proved to be derogatory and subject to postseason removal.

The NCAA said 14 schools have removed all references to Native American culture or were deemed not to have references to Native American culture, including the San Diego State Aztecs and the North Carolina-Pembroke Braves, among others.

The Braves will not be barred from using images in postseason competition, Brand said, because the school's student body consists of more than 20 percent Native Americans.

The NCAA has defined which images are "hostile or abusive," with input from the organization's general counsel, said Westerhaus, adding, "We will listen to the actual individual institutions that have these mascots to get a sense of the community input."

Schools will have until 2008 to remove such references from cheerleader and band uniforms. But all team uniform images that were deemed derogatory must be removed by Feb. 1, 2006, Harrison said.

"Unless there is a change before Feb. 1," Brand said, "they will have to abide by" the rule.

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