Changing Nicknames, Under NCAA Duress

NCAA drops Carthage and Midwestern State from list of colleges with "hostile" Native American imagery.
November 10, 2005

Two more institutions came off the National Collegiate Athletic Association's list of colleges deemed to have "hostile" Native American nicknames Wednesday, after they abandoned or altered the names and other icons that the NCAA had found offensive. 

Carthage College said last month that its teams, which had been known as the Redmen, would become the "Red Men," and that it would alter its logo to drop the feathers that had adorned it. Midwestern State University, meanwhile, announced last week that its teams would be henceforth be called the Mustanges rather than the Indians. 

"The NCAA commends Carthage College and Midwestern State University for taking affirmative steps to eliminate the potential for a hostile or abusive environment by removing Native American references from their respective athletics programs," Bernard R. Franklin, the NCAA's senior vice president for membership and governance, said in a news release Wednesday. "While the NCAA policy does not mandate that an institution change its mascot, nickname or imagery, the action Carthage and Midwestern State have taken is consistent with core governing principles of the association, specifically the principles of cultural diversity and nondiscrimination.”

From the moment in August when the NCAA announced that it would restrict colleges whose teams used "hostile" and "abusive" Native American imagery from participating in its postseason championships beginning in February -- and identified 18 colleges as having such imagery -- its officials insisted that while they were "sending a message" to member colleges that the association disapproved of their use of Indian nicknames and mascots, the institutions were free to make their own decisions. “An institution may adopt whatever mascot it wishes -- that’s an institutional matter, and it involves their integrity and autonomy as institutions,” Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee, said at the time. 

But officials at several of the colleges have groused that it didn't feel that way to them. Janus Buss, director of public information and marketing at Midwestern State, in Wichita Falls, Tex., chuckled Wednesday at the notion that institutions were free to make their own decisions on the mascot issue. "We're free to do what we want as long as we don't care whether our students play in the postseason or not," she said.

Since August, the NCAA has granted appeals by several colleges that were able to prove that they had the support of local tribes, which association officials said suggested that the names were not "hostile" and "abusive" to those directly affected. But the association rejected appeals by two other colleges -- Bradley University, whose teams are known as the Braves, and Newberry College (the Indians) -- saying that their teams' generic names could not be claimed by any tribe.

Robert Rosen, Carthage College's vice president of communication, insisted in an interview Wednesday that the institution had not tweaked its name and its logo in response to NCAA  pressure.

The college, which was originally based in Carthage, Ill., adopted the Redmen nickname in the 1920s to differentiate them from the local high school's teams, which wore blue uniforms and were known as the Blueboys (Carthage's teams were also called the Crimson, the Fighting Lutherans and the Fighting Fools, he said). Over time, Rosen said, the name took on Native American undertones, and the college incorporated feathers into its logo. In deciding to change the Redmen name to Red Men and to drop the feathers, he said, "all we're doing is clarifying that that was the original intent of the name, and embracing that heritage."

Rosen said that while the "NCAA ruling had stimulated the conversation" on campus about the teams' name, our president has been very clear all along that we would neither change our name  or not change our name as a result of the NCAA policy."

Franklin of the NCAA said the association supports the "development of a new policy statement that will communicate [Carthage's] historical meaning of the ‘Red Men’ nickname and emphasize that there is no association with Native Americans.  We encourage the university to continue, and where appropriate, expand this educational campaign to overcome any lasting perceptions of Native American affiliation that may exist based on the institution’s previous use of Native American imagery.”

In contrast to their counterparts at Carthage, officials at Midwestern State clearly acknowledged that they had acted in direct response to NCAA pressure. The university, which has used the "Indians" name since the 1920s, decided to abandon it after being told by NCAA officials that any appeal of the early August ruling would be a waste of time, Buss said.

She said the university had adopted its new nickname, the Mustangs, after a search that involved students, staff, alumni and others, and that it settled on the new name because of the horses' regional relevance and their "tie-in" with the original name.

Buss said that the university's administration building features an Indian on a horse -- which, she noted, the NCAA would not be forcing Midwestern State to hide. The association's statement said the NCAA would give the university an extension, until the basketball and volleyball season ends in April, "to remove the name 'Indians' from its basketball court."


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