Ahead of the Curve
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What's in a mascot?  A lot more than school spirit if you live in the Great Plains State of North Dakota.

The pride & passion of many in the Peace Garden State is riding on the outcome of a lengthy legal-war that supporters of the University of North Dakota's Indian logo are waging against the NCAA and its PC-agenda on athletic mascots & monikers.

More maneuvers earlier this month ("ND to Use Fighting Sioux" / AP (FOX) / 2-8) as UND Prez Bob Kelly announced the Fighting Sioux designation would be back in action.  The move complies with a petition-reinstated, state law which had required the school to use the tag but which later was repealed by the legislature with backing from UND administration.

Since the 1990s, when the NCAA began its campaign to eradicate from every college campus in the land any sport depiction of aboriginal Americans and related cultural accouterments (tomahawks), Indian logos have been disappearing faster than American-owned lodging along the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.

Most college presidents and regents who presided over institutions with Indian nicknames quickly surrendered to the NCAA's purge-policy which they argue is designed to remove offensive images from the fields of amateur competition.

Controversy is a tonic in Twitter-land but is strictly poison to America's college elite.

A handful of schools out-flanked the NCAA forces (W & M Tribe / CMU Chippewas / FSU Seminoles / Utah Utes / Illinois Fighting Illini / Alcorn St. & Bradley Braves) and saved their symbols, either by obtaining sanction from relevant tribal council / members or in securing a special ruling from the body politic.

If North Dakota's citizen initiative succeeds there will be a price to pay.  Punitives include a permanent ban on hosting post-season tourneys and a prohibition on wearing the Fighting Sioux moniker at such events.

I'm pulling for the spirited namesake, if for no other reason than to prevent more humdrum, cookie-cutter replacement-names like Golden Eagles (Marquette) or Red Storm (St. Johns) from further homogenizing the logo-landscape of college sports.

Bad enough the academic-greedmeisters killed regionalism with their fat-conferences (Big East / SEC), soon we'll be down to four mascots nationwide: birds, fangs-with-fur, weather conditions and demons.

More importantly, I'm persuaded by proponent claims that Fighting Sioux is a respectful, cultural, (somewhat) historical depiction whose combative terminology comports well with athletic competition, rather than perpetuates a hostile stereotype.

Others hold the view that any & every portrayal of an Indian in the sporting context is offensive.  It's that view which forms the basis of the NCAA's take on the issue.

But not all Indian mascots are cut from the same cloth.

Today there are innocuous Indian images, like UND's mascot and the Kansas City Chiefs' arrowhead logo.  And then there are gross caricatures like the Cleveland Indians grinning Chief Wahoo and the Atlanta Braves' tomahawk-chop of the 90s that made Americans of all colors & creeds cringe in incredulity.

The Cowboys & Indians genre that for years shaped the attitudes of movie-going, TV-viewing public and spawned the current corrective-culture is long past.  Today it's your days-drive family-fun casino, Northern Exposure and Dances With Wolves which give most non-Indian people their look-see into tribal life.  Understanding has been evolving.

One more reason I'm pro-Fighting Sioux: I like the match-up.  It's David & Goliath, Duke battling UNLV (92) and USA hockey facing a Red Army (CCCP) in the 1980 Olympics.

North Dakota, that electoral college Lilliputian, is standing up to the giant NCAA and its arsenal of lawyers & sanctions.  Even some local Indians have joined the quest as Spirit Lake Tribe "endorsed the name" while Standing Rock elite nixed the effort but denied its flock the right to be heard ("ND" / AP (FOX)).  Who says we're all so different?

The Indian response to athletic mascoting practices was, in part, a backlash, a small pay-back for centuries of bad treatment from the majority populace and Hollywood moguls.

To the supporters of the Fighting Sioux, I wish you well.  That doesn't mean I believe the NCAA are villains in this story.  Their rules on mascots have some merit.  But their mission is out-of-step with the times and always was a bit arrogant for my liking.

There will always be chuckleheads.  That'll never change.  But America's a better place than fifty years ago, Mr. Whitlock, ESPN and the Lin slurs notwithstanding (the adults gotta' get back to running ESPN and take it back from Twitter-tots).  Most rank & file Indians seem ready to move forward, most non-Indians know the boundaries on mascots and the NCAA can sheath its PC-crusader sword and turn mediator instead.

As for Chief Wahoo, the point's made.  It's always been your call, Cleveland.  But CW lost his survivor-cachet ten years ago.  Pride has a funny way of turning stubborn.  You could knock me out cold, shove me in a car trunk, revive me a day later and I could still turn out 1001 better Indian looks before sunset.  Change needn't be painful.  In the words of that famous Indian sage Marilyn Whirlwind (Northern), "It's time."

Steven Keys

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