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Chowan College agrees to change mascot to comply with NCAA rule

MURFREESBORO, N.C. (BP)–Baptist-affiliated Chowan College has agreed to “step away from its heritage and native culture” by making plans to change its mascot in compliance with an NCAA rule banning most Native American mascots, according to a statement by the school Jan. 26.

Chowan, which is the second oldest Baptist institution of higher learning in North Carolina and is connected with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, is giving up the name “Braves” and is soliciting input from alumni, donors and the community for a new nickname. Based on those suggestions, a committee established by the school’s trustees will recommend a new mascot for the college.

“The college has agreed not to fight the NCAA ruling for several reasons: money, time, the college’s transition to Division II, and a battle that could not be won,” Chowan President M. Christopher White said.

NCAA officials announced a new policy last August prohibiting NCAA colleges and universities from “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.” The policy takes effect Feb. 1.

In August, Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA Executive Committee that made the ruling, said schools are free to choose any mascot they wish, but the NCAA believes that anything deemed hostile or abusive “should not be visible at the championship events that we control.”

A considerable stir followed the ruling, which affected 18 schools. Florida State University and the University of Utah won permission to retain their Native American mascots because they have the approval of the tribes from which their names are derived.

The very name of Chowan College is Indian, the school’s athletic director, Jim Tribbett, told Baptist Press. 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.

“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,” Tribbett said.

Even so, the school is attempting to avoid controversy by removing its Braves nickname.

At Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss., one of the nation’s oldest Baptist colleges, school officials have appealed the NCAA ruling and are awaiting a response, Alice Smith, director of media relations, said Jan. 31.

Mississippi College named its mascot after a band of Native Americans in the area, the Choctaws, and has the support of the local tribe in continuing to use their name as the nickname, Smith said, adding that the school hopes the Choctaws’ approval will help them win the appeal.

Syndicated columnist George Will assessed the necessity of such a mascot rule in a Jan. 5 column, noting that in 2002 Sports Illustrated published a poll of 351 Native Americans and found 81 percent said high school and college teams should not stop using Indian nicknames.

“But in any case, why should anyone’s disapproval of a nickname doom it?” he wrote. “When, in the multiplication of entitlements, did we produce an entitlement for everyone to go through life without being annoyed by anything, even a team’s nickname? If some Irish or Scots were to take offense at Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish or the Fighting Scots of Monmouth College, what rule of morality would require the rest of us to care? Civilization depends on, and civility often requires, the willingness to say, ‘What you are doing is none of my business’ and ‘What I am doing is none of your business.’

“But this is an age when being an offended busybody is considered evidence of advanced thinking and an exquisite sensibility,” Will wrote. “So, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has demanded that the University of South Carolina’s teams not be called Gamecocks because cock fighting is cruel.”

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