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High school, college, and professional sports team nicknames commonly reflect local lore (’49ers, Minutemen, Sooners) or an ethnic group associated with the area (Celtics, Canucks, Yankees). North Dakota, with one of the highest percentages of American Indians of any U.S. state, differs in this regard only in the group, i.e., Native Americans, on which it focuses local pride. And then there is the overlooked issue of the school’s other name. Should the NCAA succeed in the erasing “Sioux,” the word Dakota—referring to the largest subset of Sioux—would persist in the school’s name. Academia can make the Chief Illiniwek and Little Red mascots vanish. But Illinois and Oklahoma remain. Put another way, why feign umbrage at state university nicknames but not the actual state names to which they refer?
The Dutch don’t take offense at the professional basketball team from New York. Neither Hispanics nor Catholics have protested the San Diego Padres. Scandinavians aren’t outraged over Minnesota’s NFL franchise. Evidence, anecdotal and statistical, suggests that Native Americans aren’t really bothered by team names that evoke their heritage, either. Though scant polling data exists, Sports Illustrated surveyed Native Americans almost a decade ago on the subject. When queried if sports teams should cease using Indian nicknames, greater than four-fifths of Native Americans responded “no.” The Spirit Lake Sioux, to cite one example, actually sued North Dakota’s board of higher education to block the body from jettisoning the Fighting Sioux nickname.
But it is the Professional Indian, rather than the average Native American, whose opinion counts to the NCAA. Every time the Dartmouth Big Green or the Marquette Golden Eagles take the field/court/pitch/ice, political correctness lets out a cheer. For the NCAA, the only good Indian nickname is a dead Indian nickname.
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