Wednesday, April 07, 2010

What's in a Name ... ?

... plenty, according to the NCAA. But the organization's effort to rid college sports of potentially offensive Native American mascots is riddled with inconsistencies, much like the NCAA itself. The NCAA said William & Mary had to get rid of its logo, which contained two feathers. Today, W&M decided half a loaf was better than none, so it simply kept its Tribe nickname and came up with a new mascot. (On the subject of inconsistency, why does W&M have to get rid of its logo, yet Florida State is allowed to keep its Seminole mascot and tomahawk chop? The NCAA says it's because the Seminole tribe in Florida signed off on the mascot, while no "tribe" can give the OK to W&M. Gee, could big-time money also be involved?).

William & Mary's decision gives us a chance to revisit the media policy on these potentially offensive nicknames. You'll remember that in the early '90s, thanks in part to the efforts of the Native American Journalists Association, it became quite fashionable for some newspapers to refuse to reprint offensive team names. But that movement seems to have died down. The Portland Oregonian and the Lincoln (NE) Journal-Star seem to be the only major media outlets to have a ban in place. The Minneapolis Star- Tribune enacted a ban in 1994, only to rescind it a couple of years later. Editors said they reversed the policy in the name of "accuracy" and in response to "the changing society covered in these pages." A few years ago, John Levesque of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, "It's whether the sports pages should reflect reality or promote morality." If that's the case, then the sports media are overwhelmingly taking the reality road, or at least hiding behind the fact that it's hard to report on the Redskins game without using the word Redskins.

Writing for the Poynter Institute in 2003, Fanua Borodzicz was surprised to learn how little traction the issue had at that time. It's more surprising to learn that seven years later the sports media have done even less.


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