Monday, October 23, 2006

The Cockeysville Lyin' Hymans

Fortunately, there’s so little of import going on in the world that Mark Hyman has the time to devote two minutes of our local news broadcasts to the burning issue of college mascots.

Hyman bemoans the NCAA decision to not allow the University of North Dakota to use its current nickname, the Fighting Sioux, as part of its general moratorium on racially insensitive nicknames.

As one might expect, this has Hyman all in a lather, particularly since other schools using Native American nicknames (Florida State, Utah, Central Michigan University) have been given a reprieve from the NCAA.

Yes, this certainly sounds like a case of NCAA arbitrariness, and it would hardly be the first time it’s occurred.

But here’s what Hyman fails to mention. The schools who’ve been given permission to keep their nicknames all had one thing in common:
the had received the formal, unequivocal blessing of the tribes themselves to use these names, while North Dakota hasn’t. Hyman claims they have, but this isn’t true. Several tribal organizations have formally protested the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname. Hence, the NCAA is sticking to its guns.

Nor is the controversy a case of recent political correctness run amok.
The nickname has been the subject of controversy for more than thirty years, particularly given the large Sioux population in the state and on campus.

Sure, college mascots is a trivial issue, and there are more important things to get worked up over, even in the area of Native American issues specifically.

But precisely *because* it’s a trivial issue, why should North Dakota, Mark Hyman, or anyone else not simply concede, act like decent human beings, and change the nickname so that it doesn’t offend the very people they claim to be “honoring?” It doesn’t do any real damage to the university, and it’s treating people with respect.

One last point that Hyman glosses over is the fact that the nicknames at issue are Native American. He points out that there are lots of nicknames that refer to groups of people. Should these all be done away with?

What Hyman forgets is that almost none of the other nicknames he mentions refer to ethnic groups that have been almost wiped out. If any ethnicity has the right to be a bit more sensitive about the appropriation of their identity for entertainment purposes, it’s Native Americans.

But Hyman doesn’t acknowledge this, lumping in “Fighting Sioux” with nicknames such as Cowboys, Texans, Oilers, Vikings, Saxons, Saints, Railsplitters, Poets, and Engineers.

None of these groups has the same tragic history as the Native American peoples. Of course, the obvious exception is “the Engineers.” After all, who can forget that heart-rending memoir, Bury My Slide-Rule at Wounded Knee?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.28


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