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Hostile and Abusive Feathers

With the wisdom of Solomon, the arbiters of justice and fairness at the NCAA have now decreed that the College of William and Mary may keep its longstanding name for its athletic teams--"the Tribe"--but must eradicate the image of the two feathers on the school logo. Yes, it has come to this.

Quick history: Like many other colleges across the country, W&M wanted to keep its traditional team names and symbols, but the NCAA, in its zeal to cleanse campuses of any words or symbols that might refer to Indians, ordered the Virginia school to find a new name.

William and Mary president Gene Nichol appealed the decision, and this week, the NCAA came back with its split ruling: Yes to Tribe, no to feathers.

Nichol now faced a choice: Fold his tent or sue the NCAA. He decided he had taken W&M as far as it could go to protect its history and its right to determine its own symbols. (Full text of Nichol's letter explaining his decision on the jump.)

The NCAA's tortuous reasoning on the Tribe issue reveals just how thin its foundation is for its jihad against team names. In May, when the athletic association first rejected the W&M team name, the NCAA said that it doesn't matter that the college has only good intentions or that Indians in Virginia have no objection to the name. Anything that could conceivably result in fans exhibiting hostile behaviors simply had to go. (Hmmm, where is the NCAA on, say, mad, wild drinking by student fans that results in hostile behaviors?)

The NCAA in its latest rejection of W&M's appeal doesn't bother to explain just how two feathers "could lead to hostile or abusive environments," while the word "Tribe" now apparently leads to happiness and joy (even though just a few weeks ago, "Tribe" too was the trigger for hostility.)

Should W&M have refused to cave, choosing instead to sue the NCAA, as the University of North Dakota has decided to sue to keep its "Fighting Sioux" team moniker? That school's president, Charles Kupchella, makes a compelling case that the NCAA's crusade is narrow-minded, arbitrary and wildly inconsistent:

Your stand against Indian nicknames and logos - a stand that seemed to start out against all references to races and national origin - fizzled before it started when you left out Irish, Celtics, Vandals, and a host of other names. Then, for highly convoluted, hypocritical, and in some instances mysterious reasons, you exempted the Aztecs and other American Indian nicknames at the outset and, following that, you exempted the use of Chippewa, the Utes, the Choctaws, the Catawbas, and the Seminoles, leaving the NCAA position on even American Indian nicknames about as solid as room-temperature Jell-O. All of this was, and remains, highly arbitrary and capricious.

With Virginia's Indian tribes firmly on their side, William & Mary officials could have insisted on their rights. Acceding to the NCAA's kneejerk hysteria sends a terrible message to students and the broader community. Bullying, especially by a faceless bureaucracy such as the NCAA, is no way to settle differences. William and Mary should see its fight through to the end.

Subject: The Tribe, Our Logo, and the NCAA

October 10, 2006

Dear Fellow Members of the William & Mary Community:

I write concerning the National Collegiate Athletic Association's
dispute with the College over our nickname and logo.

During the past several months, the NCAA has reviewed William & Mary's
athletic insignia to determine whether they constitute a violation of
Association standards. On the more important front, the Committee
concluded that the College's use of the term "Tribe" reflects our
community's sense of shared commitment and common purpose. Accordingly,
it will remain our nickname. The presence of two feathers on the logo,
though, was ruled potentially "hostile and abusive." We appealed that
determination. The decision was sustained and has become final. We must
now decide whether to institute legal action against the NCAA or begin
the process of altering our logo.

I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for
the College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic
transgression at the hands of the NCAA. The Association has applied its
mascot standards in ways so patently inconsistent and arbitrary as to
demean the entire undertaking. Beyond this, William & Mary is widely
acknowledged to be a principal exemplar of the NCAA's purported, if
unrealized, ideals.

Not only are our athletic programs intensely competitive, but according
to the Association's own Academic Progress Reports, the College ranks
fifth among all institutions of higher learning in scholastic
excellence. Each year, we graduate approximately 95% of our senior
student athletes. During the past decade, two William and Mary athletes
have been named Rhodes Scholars and 42 elected to membership in Phi Beta
Kappa, the national honorary society founded at the College in 1776.
Meanwhile, across the country, in the face of massive academic
underperformance, embarrassing misbehaviors on and off the field, and
grotesque commercialization of intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA has
proven hapless, or worse. It is galling that a university with such a
consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is
threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put,
is not in order.

Still, in consultation with our Board of Visitors, I have determined
that I am unwilling to sue the NCAA to further press our claims. There
are three reasons for my decision. I'll explain them in order.

First, failing to adhere to the NCAA logo ruling would raise the
substantial possibility that William & Mary athletes would be foreclosed
from competing at the level their attainments and preparations merit.
Two years ago, for example, we hosted a thrilling semifinal national
championship football game against James Madison University. At present,
we are barred from welcoming such a competition to Williamsburg -- in
football or any other sport. I believe it is our obligation to open
doors of opportunity and challenge for our students, not to close them.
I will not make our athletes pay for our broader disagreements with a
governing association. We have also consulted with our coaches and
student athletic advisory council on the matter. They are of the same
mind.

Second, given the well-known challenges that this and other universities
face -- in assuring access to world-class education, in supporting the
research and teaching efforts of our faculties, and in financing and
constructing twenty-first-century laboratories and facilities -- I am
loath to divert further energies and resources to an expensive and
perhaps multi-faceted lawsuit over an athletic logo. Governing requires
the setting of priorities. And our fiercest challenges reside at the
core of our mission. I know, of course, that more than one member of our
understandably disgruntled community would likely be willing to help
finance litigation against the NCAA. Those dollars are better spent in
scholarship programs.

Third, the College of William & Mary is one of the most remarkable
universities in the world. It was a national treasure even before there
was a nation to treasure it. I am unwilling to allow it to become the
symbol and lodestar for a prolonged struggle over Native American
imagery that will likely be miscast and misunderstood -- to the
detriment of the institution. Our challenge is greatness. Our defining
purpose is rooted in the highest ideals of human progress, achievement,
service, and dignity.
Those are the hallmarks of the College of William & Mary. They will
remain so.

I know this decision will disappoint some among us. I am confident,
however, that it is the correct course for the College. We are required
to hold fast to our values whether the NCAA does so or not. In the weeks
ahead, we will begin an inclusive process to consider options for an
altered university logo. I invite you to participate. And I am immensely
grateful for your efforts and energies on behalf of the College.

Go Tribe. Hark upon the gale.

Sincerely,

Gene R. Nichol
President
College of William & Mary

By Marc Fisher |  October 12, 2006; 7:23 AM ET
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Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



As an American of Irish ancestry, I'm deeply offended by the nickname "Fighting Irish." As a southerner, I'm deeply offended by all nicknames that include the word "rebel." As a descendant of a Revolutionary War soldier, I'm even a little bit uneasy about "Patriots," even though my undergraduate degree is from George Mason University. But most of all, I'm deeply offended by the pretentious, sanctimonious N-C-double-A. They harrass schools that aren't athletic powerhouses over trivial matters like nicknames and ignore serious violations at top ten schools in big money sports.
Go Tribe--with or without the feathers.

Posted by: w&m m.a. | October 12, 2006 8:17 AM

As a W&M alumni I am deeply disappointed (but not surprised) by this decision by the NCAA. As a small academically oriented school, W&M just doesn't have the clout (read $) that the Seminoles, Sioux, Aztecs, etc. do, and doesn't contribute to the NCAA's vast television revenue base.

One interesting historical point that President Nicols failed to mention is that W&M was actually founded in 1693 as a school for native american students. That is the genesis of the school's team name/logo of Tribe.

It is also of interest that up until the late 70's the teams were known as the Indians. The name and logo were voluntarily changed at that time due to the College's concerns about negative perceptions among native americans.

Posted by: W&M x2 | October 12, 2006 9:29 AM

As another W&M alum, I too was dumbfounded at the NCAA for their decision. It really is just silly. But I have to say that I agree with President Nichol in his three reasons for not wanting to take this any further (and therefore disagree with Mr. Fisher). Perhaps the NCAA will "win" this debate in a technical sense, but there are few people in the court of public opinion who agree with them. President Nichol is saying that the whole thing is so stupid its not worth the College's time, effort and money (particularly the money) to pursue it any further. Add to this the potential short term damage to the sutdent-athletes and the potential long-term damage to the College's reputation, and it makes even less sense. The NCAA is like the little kid at the playground who takes his ball and goes home just because he can and it makes him feel important. Sure, the college may lose part of its logo, but in the end, by standing on higher ground and not further engaging these people, it will find a new logo while the NCAA will continue to look like morons.

Posted by: Matt C | October 12, 2006 9:44 AM

William and Mary was not founded as an Indian school. Its 1693 charter included a commitment to train young Native Americans as Christian clergymen and missionaries to their tribes.

Posted by: WxM-1 | October 12, 2006 9:47 AM

I was an Anthropology major at W&M, working often during my 4 years there with the Virginia Indian tribes. I can officially say, The Brafferton, located on old campus across from the President's House, was used as the Indian School, which closed in 1779. W&M wasn't founded for the Indian tribes and it kind of scares me that someone who graduated from the school would think this. Anyway, that was totally off topic from the mascot issue, but it certainly is an interesting point that throughout our College's history, to this very day, we have had a good relationship with the Virginia Indians. I understand the College's decision to spend money elsewhere - with low salaries for many professors I would rather see money put to use to retain an excellent staff then to sue the NCAA. I mean come on, we have the feathers and "Ebirt" as our mascot, and you'd think we could do better than that.

Posted by: WM Alum | October 12, 2006 10:26 AM

I think its a great discussion for colleges - what names and symbols are offensive and why, what is the value in a name or symbol, is the value worth the potential cost, etc?? Great time to think about these things and discuss them academically. But Dan Synder and the Redskins are old enough to have thought it through and should just get rid of a name that offends many. Who cares if we're used to it, or comfortable with it. There were lots of names and titles we were used to and got over using because they were discriminatory. Lets show some class, sensitivity and progress in DC with our Skins.

Posted by: Native Washingtonian | October 12, 2006 10:30 AM

I think William & Mary should replace the two feathers with a Star of David.

Posted by: sjf | October 12, 2006 10:39 AM

William and Mary is a case and point. Acadamicians have no guts and no spine. They could easily beat the NCAA, both in court and in the press.

Posted by: Steve | October 12, 2006 10:57 AM

William and Mary is a case and point. Academicians have no guts and no spine. They could easily beat the NCAA, both in court and in the press. What a miserable example they are setting for the students they are supposed to be teaching about life.

Posted by: Steve | October 12, 2006 10:58 AM

I hope W&M and other NCAA schools sues the NCAA and brings it down. For decades the NCAA has made billions of dollars off college athletes offering nothing more than an education. An education of little substance as the NCAA doesn't really care their athletes graduate or not. This disparity between what the NCAA makes off the athletes pales in comparison to the education these athletes receive. At the same time the NCAA doesn't allow these athletes to make any money for their athletic talents lest these athletes have their scholarships recinded. If this isn't a form or indentured servitude bordering on slavery then what is? It is my hope the NCAA is abolished.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 12, 2006 11:05 AM

As an alum, I received Gene Nichol's email yesterday and was disheartened that W&M chose not to fight the NCAA, but I understand why they made this decision. In the end, one has to question if the 2 feathers are worth what it would cost, but I hate-hate-hate the NCAA's inconsistency & willingness to be bought out by larger (better funded) schools. May I assume that there will be no feathers used with the names Seminoles, Sioux, et al?

Posted by: mary ann | October 12, 2006 11:12 AM

The North Dakota issue is a complicated one, and I won't even try to explain the whole history here. The main point is, that many Native students DO experience a hostile campus environment, in large part due to this protracted campus debate that has raged for decades. By this time, it's not so much the logo/nickname as it is the continued, poisonous debate. The issue was exacerbated by the 1998 $100 million gift to the school that resulted in an over-the-top hockey arena filled with thousands upon thousands of indian head logos. This petty action was specifically designed to provoke and anger. Full coverage is available at the Grand Forks Herald. It's a sad use of alumni money to fight this.

Posted by: dakotan | October 12, 2006 11:38 AM

Steve, to call W&M's administration "spineless" is missing the point. So what if they could beat the NCAA in court? The whole "feather" debate is absurd to begin with and would be a vast waste of scarce resources. This is not to say that he debate over Indian nicknames is absurd... it is, in fact, quite valid. But, in this case, we are talking about two feathers on a logo. W&M is winning the battle in the press precisely because the whole thing is so stupid. That the NCAA would waste its time and money to prosecute something like this clearly shows its misplaced priorities. Kudos to President Nichol for refusing to fight a wasteful battle when a victory in the court of public opinion is apparent.

Posted by: Matt C | October 12, 2006 11:48 AM

Since the NCAA allows colleges to associate themselves with a specific tribe (Florida State Seminoles), what W&M should do is rename themselves the Pamunkies. Then they could put a monkey on the helmet!

Posted by: WxM-1 | October 12, 2006 12:11 PM

As a W&M alum, I fully support President Nichols' choice and his assessment of what the true priorities of W&M should be.

Perhaps that is why it is such an exemplary educational institution, because it has it's priorities in the correct order.

Posted by: OD | October 12, 2006 12:38 PM

Let's see if Jon Stewart would be our new mascot. Most people seem to like him. And I bet he'd look adorable in feathers.

Posted by: Mira8 | October 12, 2006 1:53 PM

How about replacing the feathers with a couple of quill pens? Quill pens were used around the time of the founding of William and Mary so there would be an historical context for them as a logo. At the same time, they would be reminiscent of the feathers without offending the sensibilities of the NCAA.

Posted by: Lima | October 12, 2006 2:37 PM

Why can't they be the macacas?

Posted by: Redskin | October 12, 2006 2:52 PM

Dear Gene,

I am writing in regard to the NCAA's decision that the use of two Indian
feathers is somehow racist and demeaning to Native-Americans. This
decision is ironic for at least two additional reasons to that which you
described in your letter.

First, I believe William and Mary was among the first colleges in this
country to educate Native-Americans, so the innocuous use of two feathers
is symbolic of W&M's linkage to this past practice. Second, while
Publisher of the Remnant(an indepedent, student-run newspaper) during the
late 80's and early 90's, my newspaper investigated a similar issue by
ascertaining data. In essence, one staff member contacted each and every
Indian Chief of the approximately dozen tribes of Virginia, and asked the
chiefs their opinion of William & Mary's use of the Indian as its mascot.
(Yes. The issue twenty years ago was whether to excise the Indian as the
mascot, so we see now before us a recapitulation of the past).

The conclusion of each and every Indian chief was the same--they saw
William & Mary's use of the Indian, not as demeaning, but rather as an
honor. Given these facts, I find the NCAA's disregard of the sentiments
of those same invidivuals the NCAA is trying to protect from insult
nothing less than hubris, and nothing more than politically-correct
intellectual onanism reminiscent of yesteryear.

As an alumnus and graduate faculty member at a similar sized institution,
I do support your rationale and decision to drop efforts at convincing the
NCAA otherwise. Any further attempt would be quixotic and would draw
unwanted publicity.

Posted by: Professor Stefan | October 12, 2006 3:05 PM

Dear Gene,

I am writing in regard to the NCAA's decision that the use of two Indian
feathers is somehow racist and demeaning to Native-Americans. This
decision is ironic for at least two additional reasons to that which you
described in your letter.

First, I believe William and Mary was among the first colleges in this
country to educate Native-Americans, so the innocuous use of two feathers
is symbolic of W&M's linkage to this past practice. Second, while
Publisher of the Remnant(an indepedent, student-run newspaper) during the
late 80's and early 90's, my newspaper investigated a similar issue by
ascertaining data. In essence, one staff member contacted each and every
Indian Chief of the approximately dozen tribes of Virginia, and asked the
chiefs their opinion of William & Mary's use of the Indian as its mascot.
(Yes. The issue twenty years ago was whether to excise the Indian as the
mascot, so we see now before us a recapitulation of the past).

The conclusion of each and every Indian chief was the same--they saw
William & Mary's use of the Indian, not as demeaning, but rather as an
honor. Given these facts, I find the NCAA's disregard of the sentiments
of those same invidivuals the NCAA is trying to protect from insult
nothing less than hubris, and nothing more than politically-correct
intellectual onanism reminiscent of yesteryear.

As an alumnus and graduate faculty member at a similar sized institution,
I do support your rationale and decision to drop efforts at convincing the
NCAA otherwise. Any further attempt would be quixotic and would draw
unwanted publicity.

Posted by: Dr. D | October 12, 2006 3:06 PM

This is really discouraging. This sniveling weasel doesn't have the guts to do the right thing and to do it simply because it's the right thing. If he won't hold the NCAA accountable for demeaning his college, who will? Time to find a new president for this school.

Posted by: KK | October 12, 2006 4:01 PM

Best not bring up the Remnant.

Their reputation was pretty severely tarnished last year after they began a policy of reporting the names of rape victms.

It's a sad fact of life that we're far too strapped for resources to pay for such a lawsuit to protest this nonsense.

Posted by: andrew | October 12, 2006 4:24 PM

Andrew,

W&M can't afford not to fight the NCAA and its ridiculous ruling. W&M appears to stand for nothing except expediency.

If you would ask your alumni to donate money to a special fund to fight this nonsense and to preserve the school's integrity, you'd take in more contributions than a suit would cost.

Posted by: KK | October 12, 2006 4:43 PM

The money spent suing the NCAA would be better spent on scholarships.

Posted by: wm soph | October 12, 2006 7:10 PM

As a current W&M undergrad, I'm content with Big Nick's rational. Sports aren't our main focus here, and Tribe Pride isn't going away because of a minor logo change. The NCAA's move is insulting, but we can rise above and get on with life.

Posted by: SuperAce | October 13, 2006 12:19 AM

Why not use Lawrence Tribe's face as the new logo?

Posted by: Alan | October 13, 2006 2:48 PM

I'm charmed by the fighting macaca team name with Lawrence Tribe on the helmet.

very funny image

Posted by: Anonymous | October 13, 2006 3:18 PM

I think that everyone who is "disappointed" or otherwise offended by the decision not to fight the NCAA in court should start a fund drive and raise the millions of dollars its going to cost the school to sue. William and Mary is one of the most prestigious Southern universities, but it is also one of the most underfunded. It is a public university with a miniscule endowment, and an even smaller grossing athletic program. William and Mary athletes play for the love of the sport. And they're smart, too, graduating at a rate of 98%. As an alum, I wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize what few resources the athletes and the students at large have on that amazing campus.

Posted by: wmdiplomat | October 13, 2006 8:48 PM

Perhaps W&M could transform their two "Indian" feathers into two "writing quills". For such a quality academic institution, "quills" would certainly be an appropriate logo.

Posted by: Katy | October 14, 2006 12:26 PM

I too received President Nichol's letter and was also disappointed. But for reasons other than those identified by others. As an alum of the College, I can appreciate and understand the various reasons for identifying the College's teams as the Tribe. On the other hand, just as other oranizations and products have changed their names, logos and mascots to meet the demands of today's marketplace, maybe it was time for the W&M to do the same. In addition, the College has graduated some of the most intelligent, insightful and humorous individuals that I know, and it would have been intresting to see the recommendations that would have coming forth from this tribe.

Posted by: ebirt | October 19, 2006 3:17 PM

If we are going to take the "high road" perhaps we should consider getting rid of that yellow and green mascot thing also. What is that anyway?

Posted by: Ellen | October 29, 2006 10:32 AM

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