Controversy in the NCAA: Mascot Mayhem
By Joanna Patterson, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 5, 2007
Mascots across the country have come under scrutiny in the past couple of years, leaving many schools no choice but to re-examine their cheer-inducing symbols. Colleges are now being forced to join the other seventy-four eagles or forty-six tigers in the NCAA, settle for a non-offensive but hardly inspiring title like Whittier College Poets, or choose an original character that's so obscure it's comedic, like the University of California, Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.
Dartmouth has been central in recent mascot discussions, after the inclusion of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux in the December men's hockey tournament angered many members of the Dartmouth community. A resultant apology from Josie Harper, the director of athletics and recreation, was published, with a promise to consider a "policy for scheduling athletic contests against institutions that support offensive nicknames and symbols." This is not the first move in that direction, as the NCAA ruled in Summer 2005 to ban the use of Native American mascots by its sports teams in postseason play. But Native Americans cannot possibly be the only party misrepresented when it comes to college mascots. So when it comes to banning sports teams, where should we draw the line? Here are some candidates:
The University of Mississippi's Colonel Reb. A white-bearded man with a wide-brimmed hat leaning on a cane -- he looks genteel enough to be my grandfather. But apparently not quite enough to pacify criticizers, who claim that as a caricature of a plantation owner, he's offensive. In fact, Colonel Reb's character is actually based on a black man -- Blind Jim Ivy. Ivy was the son of a slave and a popular peanut vendor and Ole Miss sports fan in the late 1800s. However, despite overwhelming student support for the old guy -- 94 percent voted to keep him in his official post -- he was demoted from official to unofficial mascot in 2003. Since then, the website SaveOleMiss.com has popped up, a student-run attempt website dedicated to restoring the Colonel.
The West Virginia Mountaineers. In 2002, the poor mountaineer almost had his cap gun banned from Camp Randall, due to anti-gun laws that existed in the stadium. Eventually, Chancellor of West Virginia University overruled the original decision and gave the mountaineer the go-ahead. The fact that the mountaineer almost had his weapon banned angered gun activists so much that they flew a pro-gun banner over the stadium during the game proclaiming "Guns Save Lives." "WVU officials, fans and the nation will see that gun owners will not be mollified or silenced," Alan Gottlieb, spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation, said in a statement released by the organization.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With a leprechaun for a mascot, the Fighting Irish are hardly the most accurate portrait of Irish heritage -- especially given the title Fighting Irish. As well as being potentially offensive, Notre Dame has also been on the flip side of the coin. When the team played against Stanford University in 1997, one member of the Stanford Marching Band dressed up as a nun with a crucifix as a baton -- a move that enraged the Notre Dame population, as well as a group of San Jose Catholic school administrators. Numerous apologies were issued by Stanford, and the band was prohibited from returning for the next Notre Dame-Stanford game
The University of Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners are yet to come under scrutiny, but it seems like only a matter of time before this is the case. Sooners were illegal settlers in Oklahoma who began settling and taking over native land in the 1880s -- hardly model citizens. Given that Colonel Reb -- despite being modeled after a black man -- was demoted from official mascot status due to his plantation-esque looks, the Sooners' less than exemplary history leaves much room for criticism.
Given the prevalence of potentially offensive mascots across the NCAA, there seems to be a solution that doesn't involve a full-out sports team ban. Take the case of the Stanford Tree:
Though Stanford has no official mascot, the marching band's "tree" is familiar to many students as the school's mascot. However, in early 2006, the current tree, Erin Lashnits, was suspended for the remainder of her tree reign for a long list of reasons, the most critical of which was for alcohol violations. (She reportedly blew a 0.157 at the California game from which she was suspended.) After a mascot-less few weeks, a new tree was crowned in March after an intense competition for the position involving "bizarre skits, untold amounts of various fluids including syrup and fake blood, a chair made of nails, a go-kart race and a bra made of Laffy Taffy," according to an article in the Stanford Daily. Unfortunately, only weeks after being crowned, the newest tree was suspended from an NCAA basketball tournament in early April for failing to listen to officials.
Herein lies the solution -- in an age of extreme political correctness but an undying love of sports, why not invite the teams but not extend the invitation to their respective mascots? How about it? University of Mississippi, we'd love for you to compete against us in basketball, but feel free to leave the Colonel at home.