Two weeks ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association declared any use of Native American names and mascots to be “hostile and offensive.” Tuesday, it made the first of what could be multiple exceptions to its new policy on the use of Indian imagery, removing Florida State University from its list of institutions facing restrictions on participation in NCAA championships.
When the NCAA unveiled its policy on August 5, after what its officials described as a "reasoned" deliberative process that took the better part of four years, no institution objected more strenuously than Florida State. Its highly visible and successful teams bear the Seminole name and its football fans are rallied by a student, dressed as the Seminole leader Osceola, riding downfield on a horse with a flaming spear.
Threatening legal action, its officials complained that the NCAA had ignored the university’s longstanding relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which they said had formally endorsed the university’s use of its name and icons. (At the news conference announcing the new policy, an NCAA official responded to that point by asserting that another group of Seminoles, in Oklahoma, objected to the university’s use of the name, which Florida State officials disputed.)
Florida State became the first – and is still the only – institution to formally appeal the NCAA’s judgment.
Last Friday, in announcing how it would handle appeals, the NCAA said a “primary factor” in the reviews would be whether "documentation exists that a ‘namesake’ tribe has formally approved of the use of the mascot, name and imagery by the institution." But the association included a caution, warning that tribal approval might not be enough to overcome what its top official called “the NCAA’s responsibility to ensure an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who attend and participate in our championships."
Tuesday, Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s vice president for membership and governance, sought to hold the line over all on the mascot issue, even as it made an exception for Florida State.
“The NCAA Executive Committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong,” Franklin said.
"However, in its review of the particular circumstances regarding Florida State, the staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor. The NCAA recognizes the many different points of view on this matter, particularly within the Native American community. The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree.”
Florida State officials welcomed the NCAA's decision. "For nearly 60 years, this university has proudly identified itself with the indomitable spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and we look forward to continuing our close relationship with this courageous tribe for many years to come," said President T.K. Wetherell.
The NCAA's decision, Franklin made clear, "applies to the unique relationship Florida State University has with the Seminole Tribe of Florida."
"The NCAA position on the use of Native American mascots, names and imagery has not changed, and the NCAA remains committed to ensuring an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who participate in and attend our championships," he said, adding, “Requests for reviews from other institutions will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”
Some other institutions affected by the NCAA's mascot policy, including the University of Utah, have contended that local tribes support their use of the names.