Archive for August, 2005

Culture: NCAA Oks Stereotype of Brawling Irishmen

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

In a statement worthy of the Supreme Court’s recent hair-splitting rulings, the NCAA announced a hare-brained policy that aims to keep member schools from “using racial/ethnic/national origin references”. Well, some references. It turns out the prohibition is even more politically correct than it sounds.

Disclosure: I earned my MA at a regional campus of the University of Illinois (one of the primary targets of the NCAA’s mascot police). I have been a fan of Fighting Illini basketball for 30 years, an interest ignited by my wife who once babysat for one of Lou Henson’s star guards of the early 80s.

Although the press release at the NCAA web site credits the Executive Committee, this masterpiece of institutional doublespeak has NCAA President Myles Brand’s fingerprints all over it. Brand, of course, will be remembered as the indecisive president of Indiana University who could summon the courage to fire Bobby Knight only when there was a student who could take the heat for him.

Brand displays an intolerant hypocrisy common among postmodern “liberals”. This peculiar breed demands tolerance but seldom exhibits it. When such creatures are unable to persuade others that their pure and righteous view is the only correct one, they simply impose their will – as far as they are able – on the poor benighted souls who cannot see the shining light of their wisdom. Such is the pride and arrogance of these closet fascists that they are utterly unable to form the thought that there might be some merit in an opposing view. These champions of tolerance willingly accommodate the grossest misbehaviors, but they cannot tolerate a difference of opinion.

According Executive Board chair Walter Harrison, “colleges and universities may adopt any mascot that they wish, as that is an institutional matter. But as a national association, we believe that mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at the championship events that we control.” So, unable to actually bring its members to heel in an “institutional matter” such as this, NCAA will simply strip recalcitrant schools of their identity at future NCAA championships.

(This, of course, effectively exempts football from the NCAA’s heavy handed interference because there is no NCAA football championship. Perhaps the committee is relieved that this de facto exemption may have the agreeable effect of diminishing the outrage of schools known primarily for their football programs. It hasn’t worked for Florida State University, however.)

The Executive Committee did not explain who is qualified to “deem” when references are hostile or abusive, but no explanation was really necessary. It can be safely assumed that they alone possess the wisdom and sensitivity, (not to mention the required excess of spare time) to do the job. The committee also provided no definitions for “hostile” or “abusive”, but no definition should be expected. Defining their terms would simply constrain their lofty mission. Instead, they have taken the approach of “we can’t tell you what it is, but we’ll let you know when we see it.”

This attitude is evidenced by the fact that Central Michigan University can’t use the nickname Chippewas while San Diego State University can use the name Aztecs. Perhaps the NCAA thought San Diego State named its teams after the Pontiac van/SUV by that name. Or maybe they figured all the Aztecs are dead so it doesn’t matter anyway. Who knows? At any rate, the Committee seems convinced that once we are sufficiently blinded by the pure light of their superior minds and overwhelmed by the pinpoint accuracy of their inerrant moral compasses, we’ll be content to let them do the deeming without reason or justification.

Racial/ethnic/national origin references

Even with no definitions or standards to constrain him, Brand unequivocally stated that the “the NCAA objects to institutions using racial/ethnic/national origin references”. But do they? A quick survey of schools’ web sites revealed that many NCAA member schools employ “racial/ethnic/national origin references” that received the tacit approval of the mascot police. Here is a sampling

and, of course …

A quick glance at these obvious violations reveals an enormous gap in the NCAA’s righteous indignation. The policy that masquerades as a prohibition against “mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin” is actually much less than that. “Hostility” and “abuse” directed at white, western European ethnic groups and nations seem perfectly acceptable to the luminaries in the upper reaches of the NCAA. It seems that it only applies to shielding the alleged sensibilities of the Executive Committee’s minority du jour, American Indians/Native Americans. This is a narrow focus indeed as we learn from the pass given San Diego State; the sensibilities of those descended from Mexican Indians such as the Aztecs are of no concern to the NCAA.

To be fair, however, there may be other explanations for some of these oversights. For all its wealth and overbearing power, the NCAA – especially with Brand at the helm – may not feel up to the task of taking on Notre Dame’s huge fan base. And Cleveland State is hosting a women’s basketball regional next year (after the NCAA’s feel-good sanctions become official). How would it look if the NCAA came in and told the host school that they had to cover up their cartoon Viking and kick the mascot off his unicycle?

A “model institution”

Some of us are puzzled why the NCAA, with many obvious ills tarnishing big-time intercollegiate sports, is wasting so much time and effort on what is truly a minor distraction. Indeed, the NCAA’s lack of attention to real problems could hardly be made clearer than it is in this astonishing statement:

The committee also strongly suggested that institutions follow the best practices of institutions that do not support the use of Native American mascots or imagery. Model institutions include the University of Iowa and University of Wisconsin, who have practices of not scheduling athletic competitions with schools who use Native American nicknames, imagery or mascots.

The University of Iowa, of course, sheltered basketball star Pierre Pierce – with the silent assent of the NCAA – by keeping him on the team and on scholarship after he pleaded guilty to assault causing injury, a charge that resulted from an attack on a female basketball player at the university. Coach Steve Alford’s staunch defense of Pierce led his victim to conclude that the university would protect him and there would be no point in subjecting herself to the inevitable public humiliation of testifying. Her decision to leave Iowa rather than testify allowed Pierce to plead guilty to the lesser charge and avoid standing trial for felony third degree sexual assault. He returned to a hearty welcome the following year.

Pierce’s career at this model institution finally ended when he was again arrested for sexual assault and other charges. After again defending his cherished guard, Alford was eventually forced to dismiss him from the team. Pierce now wanders around trying to find a way to play basketball while contemplating the distinct possibility that his playing days may end in the Iowa Correctional League instead of the dreamed-of NBA. I don’t know what became of his first victim; his second is awaiting the opportunity to testify at his trial

In the strange math of the NCAA, two University of Iowa athletic careers ended by a violent sexual predator add up to less than the great moral value of basing athletic scheduling decisions on opposing teams’ nicknames. I’m sure I’m not as smart as Myles Brand, so I confess I don’t quite understand how this equation honors the NCAA’s commitment to “the highest levels of integrity and sportsmanship.”

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