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‘Choctaws’ & ‘Braves’ likely set as mascots; ‘Indians’ doubtful

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)-Keith Bell isn’t offended by his school’s mascot.

After all, Bell, who played basketball for the Mississippi College Choctaws, is of Choctaw descent.

“It’s not really that big of a deal like a lot of people make it out to be,” said Bell, who transferred to Mississippi College in Clinton from a junior college. “It’s something that’s important to me. It’s my tribe.

“Now if it got to the point where [an Indian mascot] was used negatively, I’d have problems.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has a few problems with it, asking non-Indian schools last month to stop using Indian names and mascots because the practice violates anti-discrimination laws.

“In my situation, Mississippi College hasn’t used our name negatively,” Bell said. “It’s an honor for Mississippi College and the Choctaws. It goes both ways.”

Founded in 1826, Baptist-affiliated MC is the oldest college in Mississippi.

“Native Americans have a significant history in this state,” said MC sports information director Will Chandler. “An association with the Choctaws is an honor. I’ve never received any word that [the mascot] would be discussed or changed among students or faculty.”

Chowan College in Murfreesboro, N.C., another Baptist-affiliated school, also has decided to keep its Indian sports name — the Braves. Originally established in 1848 as a four-year Baptist women’s college, Chowan is now a four-year coeducational liberal arts institution that offers 12 sports for men and women.

“We’re not in the process of changing [the mascot],” said Chowan sports information director Thomas Gardner. “We met with several of our local Indian tribes, and they didn’t have a problem with it.”

Cumberland College may be taking a different route, with the Williamsburg, Ky., Baptist school seriously considering exchanging its “Indians” mascot for another nickname in the next couple of months.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before a change is going to be made,” said Cumberland athletic director Randy Vernon. “We have discussed it for a really long period of time. We are studying the situation presently, and we expect within the next month to make a decision one way or another on it.”

The mascot issue is anything but new. Native American activists complained decades ago that the Indian nicknames were disrespectful. In 1968, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) began a campaign to address stereotypes found in print and other media. Within the next two years, Dartmouth College changed its “Indians” nickname to “Big Green” and the University of Oklahoma retired its “Little Red” mascot.

In 1972, American Indian students at Stanford University successfully petitioned for the school to drop its “Indian” sports nickname and logo. Since that time, Indian mascots have been removed from many schools, including Syracuse, Marquette, St. John’s, Siena College, Saint Mary’s College and Miami University (Ohio), among others.

In 2001, the New York State Education Department called for the retirement of institutionalized Indian sports team nicknames, mascots and logos from its public schools.

Now even elementary schools are starting to take action. Sagamore Hills Elementary School in Atlanta decided to get rid of its “Chiefs” mascot. In addition, students and teachers also are considering alternative ways of showing support for the Atlanta Braves besides tomahawk chops and war chants.

And the movement has reached beyond athletics. A panel in Utah decided in 1999 that the word “Redskin” was a derogatory term and forbade its use on motor vehicle license plates.

With the recent statement issued by the civil rights panel, American Indian activists are hoping to see even more progress.

“I think it’s going to make a big difference,” Cyd Crue, the president of the Illinois chapter of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media, told ESPN. “I realize it’s not the end of stereotypes in sports, but I think it was really important that a federal commission get involved and make a statement to move our country toward more equality and justice.”
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  • Ashley Michael