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
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
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
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
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.
Gene R. Nichol
College of William & Mary
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