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1:06 am EDT        56°F (13°C) in Oklahoma City, OK

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Murphy’s Law has struck: my truck is in the shop for a problem with the trailer air system. Since the rearmost set of tandem axles must be able to slide relative to the “box” of the trailer, the brake air lines that go to the trailer axles must be flexible rubber hoses. These hoses must be suspended at least 18” (46 cm) above the pavement, as per D.O.T. regulations, and this is accomplished using a set of hangers and springs. Apparently I had one of those hangers fail, and as a result, the hoses began to drag against the pavement. Eventually, the outer layers of the hose wore completely through, and brake-system air started leaking into the atmosphere. I just barely managed to limp it here to get it fixed; the mechanic is going to cut away the damaged section(s) of hose and splice the two ends back together using clamps and a short length of metal tubing.

As many of you have probably heard by now, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has begun to enforce a policy regarding the use of Native American names and/or symbols by the athletic teams of its member institutions. Those schools whose use of names or imagery the NCAA deems “hostile or abusive” will be forced to cover up any such names or imagery on their uniforms in order to participate in NCAA-sanctioned post-season tournament play, and if any of them is the host of any part of an NCAA post-season championship tournament, they will be required to do likewise with their venue. Personally, I have a number of problems with this policy, and I’m going to set out to explain them.

First, I don’t believe the NCAA has any place acting as the “thought police” for its member institutions. As you quite obviously know, I am a member of a minority group myself, and I stand firmly against bigotry and intolerance in any form. At the same time, though, I also understand that mere ignorance or hatred held by an individual toward any minority group is in and of itself not punishable; it is only when speech is made or action is taken on the basis of such intolerance that any kind of punishment can be given out. That is to say, if a hypothetical co-worker of mine hated gay people and believed all of Falwell’s lies about us, I would have no reasonable right to ask that he/she be punished until and unless he/she called me a faggot, or cut my salary simply because I’m gay, or whatever.

I fail to understand what can possibly be offensive about the use of the proper name of a tribe. There are many schools, such as the University of Illinois (Fighting Illini), Florida State University (Seminoles), Central Michigan University (Chippewas), and the University of North Dakota (Fighting Sioux), who take their athletic nicknames from the proper names of local or regional Native American tribes. What’s wrong with this? Quite frankly, it seems to me that if a member of the Sioux tribe objects to UND’s use of the Fighting Sioux nickname, he/she is implicitly saying that he/she is so ashamed of being Sioux to the point of becoming self-loathing. My belief is that using the proper name of a tribe as an athletic nickname is a sign of respect for the traditions and reputation of that tribe, and is in no way, shape, or form demeaning or derogatory.

At the same time, there are other schools that use generic (and often derogatory) Native American terminology, such as “Redskins,” “Redmen,” or “Savages,” for their athletic nicknames. It should be quite obvious why this type of nickname would be found offensive by Native Americans; these are all terms that were created by white men to refer to Native Americans in a less-than-respectful manner, and as such, are not proper terminology to use. I am all in favor of discouraging the use of this type of nickname, and in fact, I can think of two universities that changed their nicknames in the 1990s for this reason. The Miami University Redskins (Oxford, OH) became the RedHawks, and the St. John’s University Redmen (New York, NY) became the Red Storm.

As for Native American imagery, I apply the same logic. Such imagery can be done in a respectful manner (like UND’s logo) or in a cartoonish, caricaturish manner (like the mascot of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, “Chief Wahoo”). If the imagery is created and used in a tasteful manner, with the utmost respect for the traditions and customs of a particular tribe, I don’t see why there should be a problem with it. On the other hand, if the imagery is used in such a way as to make Native Americans appear to be silly, stupid, violent, or cartoonish, it is wrong and its use should be discontinued.

There are other areas of intercollegiate athletics in which hostility to Native Americans can be seen, such as among fans in attendance at events. An article in Wednesday’s USA Today mentioned a profane and offensive chant sometimes done by fans at UND hockey games in which Native Americans are referred to as “prairie niggers.” Again, this crosses the line from mere thought into action, and it should be punished severely. Revocation of a few guilty students’ season-ticket privileges ought to send a message very quickly. As I’ve said, though, it is only speech or action that can be punished, and only those parties who are guilty of improper, intolerant, bigoted speech or action should be punished — an entire university ought not be punished for the mere use of a name.

As if the “thought police” aspect isn’t bad enough, the NCAA had to go out and destroy whatever credibility it might have had on this issue by granting exemptions from the policy to certain schools. For example, Florida State received an exemption to the policy, but North Dakota finds itself in much more hot water. What the NCAA is in effect saying is that they only plan to go after those schools that aren’t well-lawyered and flush with cash; while FSU is a big-time Division I institution that makes big bucks off its athletic program, UND is a smaller Division II school (although its hockey team competes at the Division I level) that lacks the resources to carry on a prolonged fight to keep its nickname.

I would support a few other possible ideas here. For example, those schools whose nickname is “Fighting _____” could drop the word “Fighting”; they could simply be the University of North Dakota Sioux or the University of Illinois Illini. Also, the use of human mascots dressed in tribal garb should be carefully monitored, and behavioral guidelines for the people who serve as such mascots should be set to ensure the utmost level of respect for Native Americans.

Well, I’m off. Ta-ta for now.