Keeping the Choctaws

February 20, 2006

The Choctaw tribe was born in central Mississippi, in land that is also home to Mississippi College. And for decades, the college's teams have been known as the Chocktaws and the college's logo has been an arrowhead with the letters "MC." (The athletics department's Web page bears a picture of a spear, and the baseball team's uniforms an image of a tomahawk, though the college last year dumped its long time mascot, "Chief Choc." )

As a result of the name and the imagery, the small Baptist college that plays in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division III found itself last August on a list of NCAA members that risked banishment from the association's championships if they retained Native American names or imagery that the association deemed to be "hostile" or "abusive."

Mississippi College officials objected, and when the NCAA announced weeks later a process by which institutions could fight their inclusion on the list by proving that actual Native Americans supported their using a name, the college appealed.

On Friday, the NCAA announced that it had indeed decided to drop Mississippi College from the list of institutions that risked losing their eligibility to participate in NCAA championships as of this month if they retained their Indian icons. What swung the decision in the college's favor was the fact that the Mississippi Band of Choctow Indians, in December, had said formally that it approved of the college's continued use of its name.

“Although the NCAA Executive Committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong, it recognizes that a Native American tribe is a distinct political community and, therefore, respects the authority of the tribe to permit universities and colleges to use its name and imagery," said Bernard Franklin, the NCAA's senior vice president for governance and membership. "The NCAA recognizes that there are, and will be, disagreements among Native American individuals, groups and tribes concerning the use of mascots, nicknames and imagery in sports. In those instances in which a tribe endorses the use of its name and associated imagery, the NCAA defers to the judgment and will of the tribe."

Mississippi's president, Lee Royce, welcomed the NCAA ruling and said the college looked forward to a "mutual relationship of respect and cooperation" with the Choctaw tribe. "Mississippi College is honored to continue to be known as the 'Choctaws.' "

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