Topic: Sports & Entertainment

The Ethically Incoherent NCAA

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has now ruled that any school with a nickname or logo that the NCAA considers racially or ethnically “hostile” or “abusive” will be prohibited from using them in postseason events. Mascots that represent these offensively named teams will not be allowed to perform at tournament games. Beginning in 2008, cheerleaders and marching band will also be barred from using American Indians on their uniforms.

This is probably going to be one of those issues that will be resolved in a certain way not because it is right or even sensible, but because one side will just get tired of refuting the relentless arguments of the other. It is almost inevitable the self-righteous forces of logic-free political correctness will beat down the opposition, and strong-arm teams at all levels into abandoning Native American names and imagery, at the loss of a lot of money that the teams could spend on better things and the gain of…well, the gain of that puffed-up feeling of power and accomplishment that some people get when they make others do what they want. The NCAA’s edict is just the latest, though by no means the least ridiculous, effort to address an imaginary wrong that was manufactured by cynical activists and that is condemned in direct opposition to facts and public opinion.

To be clear: there is nothing “abusive” or “hostile” about American Indian team names and logos. The entire issue is an example of interest-group power-mongers pressuring vulnerable bureaucracies like the NCAA to adopt their objectives, injuring others in the process. Needless to say, the ethical misconduct is not that of the college teams, but rather the activists and the NCAA.

Nobody names athletic teams in order to be “abusive” or “hostile.” Nobody. Teams are named after entities that have positive attributes associated with them, and having a team named after you, whether you are a predator, a bird, a profession, a nationality, or a sock is a compliment of the highest order. Some honorees don’t deserve it…pirates, blue jays and devil rays come to mind, but it’s still a compliment. But some clever tactician for a Native American political group managed to launch the idea that only in the case of Native Americans, such team names are offensive. The Irish in Boston embraced their Celtics, and the Norwegians in Minnesota love their Vikings, and the nation’s Spartans (like me) and yankees and oilers and cowboys and packers and patriots and padres (and perhaps somewhere up above, angels) all see nothing remotely insulting about having teams named after them, but somehow Native Americans are different. Well, not really: a few years ago, Sports Illustrated polled them and 88% said that the nicknames didn’t bother them a bit.

You would think that this would have ended the issue, but no. The High Priests of the Politically Correct decreed that even if the Native Americans weren’t offended by the Chiefs and the Indians and the Utah Utes and the Braves and the Seminoles, they should be, because they, the High Priests, had determined that these team names were an insult, and that was that. Florida State asked permission from the state Seminole tribe to continue using the name, and the tribe said, “Sure!” “Doesn’t matter,” said the High Priests. “We’re offended on their behalf!” Now the NCAA is declaring that it, not the supposed objects of the “abuse,” is the arbiter of what is “hostile and abusive.” “We believe hostile or abusive nicknames are troubling to us and it can’t continue,” NCAA committee chairman Walter Harrison said in a remarkably revealing statement. It begins by defining away the argument: Indian nicknames are hostile and abusive; they just are, so there, case closed. That’s the NCAA’s starting point. The statement ends by saying that these self-defined abusive names are troubling to…the NCAA. Not Native Americans…the NCAA.

This sort of double-reverse reasoning kept the Soviet Union rolling for 70 years.

The results of the new restrictions will cost capitulating schools millions in merchandising, printing, uniform changes and logo development, and will cost the schools that decide to fight it millions in legal fees. All of this money could be spent instead on actual education, of course, but priorities are priorities. Very few Native Americans will actually notice or care about the change, since most didn’t care anyway, but right is right.


The NCAA ruling is inept, craven, silly, wasteful, hurtful, disruptive, illogical, arrogant and ethically incoherent. It will upset and inconvenience thousands, cost millions, and the only beneficiaries will be a handful of zealots, busybodies and interest group powerbrokers. That is a pretty good description of a wrongful act.

The Ethics Scoreboard hereby predicts that no sports team, anywhere, will ever be named after the NCAA. There are no qualities there to admire at all.

Postscript: Before I get inundated by e-mails that begin, “What about the Washington Redskins?” let me state that this is the one team name that could legitimately meet the NCAA’s “abusive” standard, and the Scoreboard would not shed a tear if it were consigned to the dustbin. Yes, the nickname has an innocent origin and it has the virtues of team history and tradition, but the name is a racial slur, and that tips the scales in this quarter. There is also the thin but still appreciable chance that without the legitimately offensive Redskins as an easy target, the whole anti-Native American nickname movement might finally collapse from a lack of anything real to complain about.

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