It Could Have Been Us

By Stephen C. Smith Sr.
Updated: January 5, 2006

WICHITA FALLS, Texas – Much like pimpin’ (or so I’ve heard) or being cheesy, sometimes it’s just not easy being a person of color in America.

One of the few injustices spared African-Americans though was the objectification that resulted from the brilliant idea of using symbols of Native American heritage as team nicknames, icons, mascots and logos.

Some examples are widely known such as the Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins or Florida State Seminoles, while others are more obscure nationally like the Midwestern State University Indians.

But the team formerly known as the MSU Indians has fallen by the wayside and in its place are the newly minted MSU Mustangs.

And people aren’t happy. Some people, that is.

Grumbling in the local community from those who feel disenfranchised by the change has ranged from anger at the school for acquiescing to the NCAA, to complaints about political correctness run amok.

“Most MSU students and alumni wanted the university to continue the tradition of almost a century of honoring American Indians (including my ancestors) by adopting, with permission of the Kiowa Nation, the name Kiowa. The university made no attempt to do this.”

You see, names like Redskins, Savages, Braves, Indians and so forth, so commonly adorn the sports landscape at all levels – high school, collegiate and professional – that it became perfectly normal to slap on your war paint and help your favorite team tomahawk chop its way to a win.

And no, conveniently trotting out someone from the affected group that just happens to agree with your point of view doesn’t make it right either.

Progress in turning back this injustice has been slow over the course of 35 years leading up to the NCAA becoming sport’s first governing body to finally take action in August of last year.

Well, sort of.

The official stance is that “any school with a nickname or logo considered racially or ethnically ‘hostile’ or ‘abusive’ by the NCAA would be prohibited from using them in postseason events.”

Naturally, that left the interpretation of just what was hostile or offensive completely in the eye of the beholder. But that interpretation is as easy or as difficult as you choose to make it.

The best way to decide is to simply replace the Native American nickname of your choice with something that hits a little closer to home for you – say, instead of the (insert your school name here) Savages, pretend they were the Negroes or Pickaninnies.

Now that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

But it would be a possibility if you follow the thought process of using these names as an “honor” to its logical conclusion.

There are still almost 200 high schools in Texas (10 in Dallas alone) that steadfastly hold to their use of these names. In their mind, it’s a part of their school’s tradition and heritage.

And to think that this all started because one misguided explorer, who was looking for a better opium supply, got lost on his way to India.