The National Collegiate Athletic Association declared Thursday that it had rejected Bradley University’s appeal to be dropped from a list of institutions deemed to have “hostile” or “abusive” Native American nicknames or mascots, in a ruling that spells trouble for the rest of the 15 institutions that remain on the NCAA’s list. Bradley's teams are known as the Braves.
Since the NCAA first announced its policy restricting the use of Native American imagery in NCAA championship events in August, it has granted appeals to three institutions: Central Michigan (Chippewas) and Florida State (Seminoles) Universities and the University of Utah (Utes), all of which use nicknames affiliated with individual tribes.
The NCAA granted the exemptions to the three universities after they were able to show that the affiliated tribes supported their use of the names; the association also rejected an appeal by the University of North Dakota after concluding that a majority of Sioux tribes wanted the university to stop using the name Fighting Sioux.
But almost all of the institutions that remain on the list of institutions that face restrictions on their participation in NCAA championships because they use Native American imagery have general nicknames that are not affiliated with a particular tribe -- relatively innocuous names like Indians (seven colleges) and Braves (two others besides Bradley), or more distinctive (and contentious) ones like the Redmen (Carthage College) or Savages (Southeastern Oklahoma State University).
Bradley is the first institution with a general name like that to have its appeal considered by the NCAA. In rejecting its plea, Bernard Franklin, the association’s vice president for governance and membership, said the review committee had concluded that because “no Native American tribe ‘owns’ the word ‘Braves’ in the same way it owns the name of a tribe,” Bradley “cannot overcome the position that the use of such a name leads to a hostile or abusive environment.”
“By continuing to use Native American references in nicknames,” Franklin said, “institutions assume responsibility over an environment which they can not fully control, and fans, opponents and others can and will exhibit behaviors that indeed are hostile or abusive to Native Americans.”
He added: “At an ever increasing rate of occurrence and volume, Native Americans have expressed their objection to the use of names, terms, imagery and mascots associated with athletics teams. The term ‘Braves’ is among those many Native Americans find objectionable in athletic settings.”
The NCAA’s statement lauded Bradley for eliminating its Native American mascot and other imagery in recent years, and for establishing multicultural courses, “recruiting Native American students and helping educate its constituents on the meaning of the term Brave.” But “the review committee believed that Bradley could have sent a very clear, unambiguous message of its respect for Native Americans by eliminating the use of Braves as its nickname when it removed the other Native American imagery.” “Good intentions and well-meaning efforts by schools cannot by themselves overcome the objection of those being characterized by such terms.
Bradley issued a terse statement saying that it would consider its options, including an appeal to the NCAA’s executive committee.