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Colleges Face Limits on Native-American Team Names

I’m Barbara Klein with the VOA Special English Education Report.

Most American students are back in school by early September and, if they play fall sports, back in action.

This Saturday, for example, the Panthers of the University of Pittsburgh will open their football season -- American football. They will play the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

The Panthers have someone dressed like a big cat to help lead the crowds. At Notre Dame, the mascot is a little creature of Irish imagination, a leprechaun.

Team names and mascots play a part in school spirit. But a committee of the national organization that governs college sports recently approved a new policy. It bars the use of hostile nicknames, mascots and images related to racial or ethnic groups during the championship season.

More than one thousand schools are in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The decision affected eighteen schools with nicknames or mascots representing American Indians. The N.C.A.A. president says the schools found that some people could be offended.

Several teams are the Indians or Braves. Carthage College in Wisconsin has the Redmen. Southeastern Oklahoma State University has the Savages.

Also on the list are the Seminoles of Florida State University. The university president argued that the name honors the Seminole Indians of Florida. He noted that the tribe has supported the name for years.

The new policy goes into effect in February. Florida State, however, will not have to follow it. Last week the university won an appeal. Appeals by other schools will be considered case-by-case.

The University of North Dakota is home of the Fighting Sioux. Its president also says the name is meant to honor, not insult, Native Americans. He questions why the Fighting Irish are not on the list.

An official of the N.C.A.A. says, "This is not an exercise in political correctness." She says over four years of study went into the new policy. She says the aim is to make sure championship events are free of images and names that different groups see as hurtful.

Yet no one can agree how many Native Americans are offended. Findings conflict. Some mental health experts, however, say such names and images harm Native American children.

Similar disputes face professional teams, like football's Washington Redskins.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are online at I’m Barbara Klein.