The NCAA and Native American Mascots (or, "Go Emus!")

This isn’t a new story, but on Friday afternoon, I heard this story on “All Things Considered” about Florida State University’s battle to save “The Seminoles” as the team mascot/nickname. As you might have heard, the NCAA “has adopted a new policy that prohibits colleges and universities from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.” (Or so says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

I think this issue is interesting for at least two reasons:

  • As the NPR story indicated, there is a kind of fuzzy line between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” use of Native American mascot names. There are some that probably need to change– the Carthage College “Redmen” and the Southeastern Oklahoma State University “Savages” are probably two good examples of names that I think cross the line (and for what it’s worth, I think pro football’s Washington “Redskins” ought to go mascot-shopping, too). There are some that strike me as fairly neutral, really– “braves” and “indians,” for example. And then there are some– the FSU “Seminoles” and, in more local news, the Central Michigan University “Chippewas”– that are a) named after real Native American tribes, and b) actually have at least some support from representatives of said tribes. I’m not going to pretend to know the answer, but I think it’s interesting– maybe even a bit odd– that the NCAA has just decided across the board that all of these names are wrong, and yet, as the Post-Intelligencer and other articles suggest, the NCAA has also decided to let some Native American names stand because the schools have “good intentions.”
  • The whole issue of Native American mascots was an issue just before my time here at Eastern Michigan University. See, some time in the early to mid 1990’s (I’m not exactly sure when), EMU changed its mascot name from “The Hurons” (a Native American tribe, and also the name of a river) to “The Eagles.” I mostly (see below) don’t care; I mean, my undergraduate institution (and the college team I still cheer for) is still known as “The Hawkeyes,” both a mythical bird and a Native American character in The Last of the Mohicans (not to mention everyone’s favorite doctor on M*A*S*H). But there are groups here, such as Huron Restoration Alumni Chapter, that seem to care a great deal. I’ve even seen some young people at EMU football games dressed up in mock Native American garb yelling “GO HURONS!” as our football team plays (and, in recent years, generally loses). Kind of an ugly display, but mostly a pathetic one.
  • I understand the name change away from “The Hurons,” but frankly, I’ve always thought that “The Eagles” is kind of lame and generic. It’s clearly a name that was thought up by some sort of marketing group, and a group who wanted to pick a mascot that caused absolutely no controversy. I think changing the mascot name to “the Eagles” was the epitome of “lost opportunity.” Just think about it: students could have taken a vote and we could have ended up with a cool name, like the UC-Irvine Anteaters did. If we had done that, maybe we could have ended up with a mascot both fun and completely logical:

    That’s right: The EMU Emus!

    C’mon, can’t you see the kid on the field dressed up in an emu costume? Can’t you hear the crowd yelling “GO EMUS, GO!!” I can even imagine how the local sportscaster could give us the nickname “the big birds” or something like that.

    Ah, missed opportunities…

(Thanks to gustavoG for the image on flickr, btw).

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