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Tuesday, August 9, 2005

NCAA: UNCP will keep the Braves

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke will remain the home of the Braves.

Athletic LogoThe National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) ruled August 5 that UNCP is the only school that will be allowed to use an American Indian mascot, nickname or imagery at NCAA sanctioned postseason events. Seventeen universities were banned from using their American Indian athletic symbols in postseason tournaments because they were judged “hostile or abusive.”

UNCP does not use an Indian mascot, but uses the “Braves” nickname and an athletic logo bearing the image of an American Indian. An NCAA committee investigated the issue for two years and required reports from 18 universities, including UNCP, in late 2004.

Pembroke “made a very compelling case to retain its nickname and imagery, said NCAA spokesman Bob Williams. UNCP’s report was compiled by a committee chaired by School of Education Interim Dean Zoe Locklear, an American Indian and UNCP graduate.

“On behalf of the members of the committee, I want to express my appreciation to the NCAA for making this very appropriate decision which will allow UNCP to continue its use of the “Braves” athletic nickname and logo,” Dr. Locklear said. “The steering committee conducted an extensive inquiry into the opinions of the UNCP constituent groups and found that the majority opinion was to retain an American Indian athletic nickname and logo.

“The UNCP community clearly stated that this University has the irrefutable right to use the name ‘Braves’ and to exhibit the Brave/Hawk logo,” she said. “I believe the arguments and the substantial documentation we presented in our NCAA response, as to why we should be allowed to retain our logo, were critical in the NCAA ruling.”

The NCAA noted that 17 other institutions had not demonstrated that their use of a Native American mascot, nickname or imagery was the result of Native Americans attending or being associated with that institution.

UNCP was founded in 1887 by and for American Indians. Today, more than 1,000 students, or about 20 percent of UNCP’s current enrollment, are American Indian.

The “exception was based on the foundation of the school, this history of the school and its continuous union with the Native American community,” Williams told The Fayetteville Observer.

The NCAA banned the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments, but will not prohibit them otherwise. The NCAA’s executive committee decided this week the organization did not have the authority to bar the use of Indian mascots by individual schools.

Nicknames or mascots deemed “hostile or abusive” would not be allowed on team uniforms or other clothing beginning with any NCAA tournament after February 1.

Most notably, Florida State’s “Seminole” and Illinois’ “Illini” are both affected by the decision. Illinois said its board of trustees would consider the matter, but Florida State’s president threatened legal action.

In North Carolina, Chowan and Catawba colleges are affected by the ruling. Chowan’s mascot is a “Brave,” and Catawba’s is an “Indian.”

UNCP Chancellor Allen C. Meadors said the NCAA’s decision confirmed what the University believed all along.

“This is as good a report as we could ask for,” Chancellor Meadors said. “We're extremely pleased the NCAA looked at this with open eyes and made a decision based on facts. We appreciate the integrity that the NCAA showed in this decision.”

Chancellor Meadors said the University’s history and its continuing sensitivity to the mascot issue persuaded the committee. UNCP’s mascot is a red-tailed hawk.

“Even if you pay strong attention to keeping it proper and dignified, you open yourself up to an opposing team making fun of your mascot,” he said. “By not having the mascot be a Brave, the University took away that opportunity.”

Schools on the list could still appeal. Major college football teams also would not be subjected to the new rules because there is no NCAA Division I-A tournament or playoff. Two years ago the NCAA recommended that schools determine for themselves whether their Indian depictions were offensive.

The NCAA plans to ban schools using Indian nicknames from hosting postseason events. Harrison said schools with such mascots that have already been selected as tournament sites would be asked to cover any offensive logos.

Such logos also would be prohibited at postseason games on cheerleader and band uniforms starting in 2008.

UNCP’s committee, charged with responding to the mascot/nickname issue, surveyed American Indians in the community and others. It found extremely strong support for retaining the Brave nickname and athletic logo.

Early on, Chancellor Meadors vowed to follow the wishes of the community.

“We are following the community’s lead on this,” he said. “If the community says we should change our nickname and logo, we will do it.”

UNCP’s Board of Trustees, which has four American Indians on it, voted unanimously in support the Brave nickname. The Lumbee Tribal Council also voted unanimously in support of the Brave logo and nickname. A student-led petition supporting the Brave nickname garnered nearly 2,000 votes on and off campus in just two weeks.

Athletic Director Dan Kenney was greatly relieved.

“I’d like to thank Dr. Locklear and the committee for its excellent support of our mascot and nickname,” Kenney said. “In fact, it is the community, especially the American Indian community, that supports the University’s identity.

“We felt that once they (NCAA) got all the facts, they would make the logical decision – that there is nothing hostile or abusive in calling ourselves the Braves,” Kenney said. “It validates our uniqueness as a University.”

UNCP was founded in 1887 as the first state supported college for Indians. A small state grant was supplemented with volunteer labor from the surrounding Lumbee Indian community to construct the first building.

The Brave nickname is believed to have emerged in the 1940s when the University was all-Indian. In 1991, Chancellor Joseph B. Oxendine, an American Indian, reviewed the Brave mascot and made the change to a hawk.

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