8/06/2005

Political Correctness Overtakes Common Sense When Discussing Relevancy of Mascots with Native American Names College sports teams all over America are busy having pow-wows to discuss how they'll react to a policy adopted by the NCAA banning schools from using Native American nicknames, logos or mascots at national championship games. I'm guessing the mascot for the NCAA is a bird with only one wing - a left one - that causes it to fly in circles, not really getting anywhere. At least 18 colleges are affected by the ruling, which was made to put a stop to the ridicule of Indians. Indian activitists hope this is the first step to the complete elimination of Indian mascots in all sports, including professional, high school, even little leagues. Activists argue that the mascots are no longer relevant in a world where political correctness is highly valued. Critics of the NCAA counter that tradition is just as important, if not more so, than political correctness. (Me? I'm not afraid to admit I'm on the side of tradition, having tomohawk-chopped my way through many Atlanta Braves games, with nary a single negative thought about the Native Americans who inspired the whole idea.) It will be interesting to see what colleges choose to do. After all, the ruling affects only NCAA championship games. There's nothing to stop teams from continuing to use their mascot names during the regular season. They just won't be able to wear their regular uniforms at NCAA championship meets because, according to an NCAA spokesman, "nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at the championship events that we control." What's next? PETA going after my beloved University of Georgia because we call ourselves bulldogs? Are we promoting a negative image of this particular breed? I'd simply die of embarrassment if we ever went the route of, say the Tennessee Volunteers. (Gimme a break! How can you possibly fear a team named for people who raise their hands!) I predict most schools will keep their original Indian mascots, arguing that they were chosen to honor the most positive characteristics of Native Americans - their winning spirit and determination. Remember, stereotypes aren't always negative. Moreover, college teams with Indian mascots are a proud bunch who make no apologies for decades of cheering for their Seminoles, Chippewas, Savages and the like. Still, this issue extends beyond sports. When we choose to use certain images in our PR and advertising, we need to think about whether that image could turn off potential customers. Already, companies have difficulty coming up with original names, especially those that turn to mythological creatures, Latin names, animals, and yes, ethnic groups. These are natural places to turn for inspiration. Unfortunately, the PC police seem determined to ferret out (no disrepect intended to those furry little creatures!) any reason to get their underwear in a knot. No point in inviting trouble. It can find you on its own. Companies that want to remain relevant are willing to examine their intent, their language and how the world and their buyers may have changed over the years.

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