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2 Baptist schools among 15 that must change Indian mascots

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Representatives from two Baptist-affiliated colleges say their schools will comply with the NCAA’s decision to ban the use of American Indian mascots and logos by sports teams, although one of the schools is appealing.

The Mississippi College Choctaws and the Chowan College Braves are among the original 18 schools targeted by the NCAA before the Florida State Seminoles, Utah Utes and Central Michigan Chippewas appealed and then won the right to continue the use of their mascots.

“We are fully supportive of the NCAA rulings,” Alice Smith, director of media relations at Mississippi College, told Baptist Press. “We are in the process of trying to mount an appeal, but we are in support of the NCAA to operate under the guidelines that they’ve set forth.”

Mississippi College, which is the second oldest Baptist college in the world and is located in Clinton, Miss., named its mascot after a band of Native Americans in the area, the Choctaws.

“They’ve always been very supportive of us and we have verbal support from them,” Smith said. “We’ve had Choctaw students come to our college and play on our teams, so we’ve never had a problem. And we have never had one complaint from anyone up to this time.”

Even if forced to comply with the NCAA rule, the college would not need to replace many logos or sports uniforms, Smith said. The school just installed a new football field with an interlocking MC in its center as the only logo.

Smith said she had not researched all the areas that would be affected by a mascot change but thought some of the uniforms may need to be replaced. The school uses an arrowhead emblem in some cases, she said, but she was not sure how the NCAA would rule on something as nonspecific as an arrowhead.

“I think it’s when it gets more personal like the name of the Choctaw,” Smith said, “but the arrowhead is so general I don’t know if it would be inappropriate.”

At Chowan College in Murfreesboro, N.C., school officials have appointed a committee to study the issue, but they have yet to hear directly from the NCAA regarding their Braves nickname.

“We have no mascot. All we have is a C representing Chowan with a feather on it,” Jim Tribbett, the school’s athletic director and basketball coach, told BP. “We have only one uniform — an old uniform from the softball team — of our 11 sports that says Braves. Everything else says Chowan.”

Tribbett said his school is sensitive to both the NCAA’s intentions and to the American Indians, but the very name of Chowan College is Indian. The campus, with about 800 students, is located between the Chowan and Meherrin Rivers in Northeastern North Carolina, and both rivers are named for Indian tribes.

“We’re sensitive to the nature of it, but to comply with the NCAA we’d have to change the name of our school!” he said. “And that’s not their intent.”

Chowan College is the only school in the nation in the process of reclassifying from a Division III to Division II school this year, Tribbett said, so they will be extra careful to obey the NCAA’s wishes.

The school has a “very good relationship” with the Indian tribe in the area, Tribbett said, and the college’s president will take part in a celebration the tribe is having in October just six miles from campus.

Tribbett read from an official statement Chowan College sent to the NCAA regarding its nickname.

“Chowan College is in a real quandary because the name is derived from the Algonquin Indian tribe, meaning ‘they of the south.’ The Native term Chowan has been the name of our college for over 150 years. Chowan is located on the banks of the Chowan River and has always honored its heritage and geography,” the statement said.

On the other side of the spectrum, the University of North Dakota lost its appeal Sept. 28 when the NCAA upheld its opinion that the school’s Fighting Sioux mascot was “hostile and abusive” because the three Sioux Indian tribes with a presence in the state unanimously passed a resolution supporting the NCAA’s decision and at least two of the tribes said they oppose the Fighting Sioux nickname and imagery.

“The NCAA position on the use of Native American mascots, names and imagery has not changed, and the NCAA remains committed to ensuring an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who participate in and attend our championships,” Bernard Franklin, senior vice president for governance and membership for the NCAA, said in a statement announcing the decision on the University of North Dakota.

Myles Brand, president of the NCAA, said in an Aug. 10 editorial in USA Today that the governing body’s decision was made in part to draw attention to a matter of race that has not been adequately examined in the past.

“This is a teachable moment,” he wrote. “A major part of this effort is aimed at initiating discussion on a national basis about how Native American Indians have been characterized and, in some cases, caricatured. In that, the decision has already been successful.”

Brand went on to draw a parallel between the current situation and the treatment of African Americans in days gone by.

“We would not think of allowing nicknames or mascots that disrespect African Americans. Surely, American Indians should be accorded the same treatment,” he added. “… This is not about an effort to be politically correct. It is about doing the right thing.”

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  • Erin Curry