Aug. 11, 2005
Florida State University’s Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting Wednesday on the issue of the change in NCAA policy regarding Native American symbols at member institutions. Athletics Director Dave Hart was asked to speak to the Board on the issue of the method by which the NCAA arrived at this policy.
FSU has a very long history of honoring the Seminoles, with respect, dignity, and veneration – it is difficult for any reasonable person to describe FSU’s relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida without using the word respectful.
Accordingly, the terms “hostile” and “abusive” when describing FSU’s relationship with its symbol namesake and its honoring of the Seminole Tribe of Florida appear to be devoid of logic, reason, or a genuine evaluation of the real facts.
The NCAA has chosen to ignore reality, and instead has focused on applying its arbitrary standards in general, with broad brush strokes, based upon an unrepresentative example and inadequate data.
There is a complete lack of standards, consensus or definition regarding what is meant by the terms “hostile” and “abusive”.
To the extent there is any discussion whatsoever of “hostile,” “abusive,” or “offensive” mascots or namesakes, it ought to be done on a case-by-case basis, in a transparent manner, with clearly defined standards and definitions, and evaluated upon appropriate information that a reasonable person would rely upon in conducting his or her affairs.
In this regard, it appears that the NCAA has set its agenda first, then focused on filtering a selective reality designed to concur with that agenda.
There has been a complete failure of truly meaningful input from the true stakeholders in this process, i.e. the individual schools that are affected, and the other participants in the overall issue, such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The policy announced by the Executive Committee contradicts the findings of this same committee in 2002.
The Executive Committee’s decision in 2002 was that any decision on symbols or mascots was an institutional decision and did not fall under the authority of the NCAA. The irony of this reversal of policy is that the NCAA has promoted institutional autonomy for years and now passes a policy in direct conflict with that long held stance, in fact appears to head toward elimination of university autonomy.
The process by which the NCAA arrived at this policy change is flawed and circumvented the associations’ ultimate responsibility, which is to reflect the consensus of its membership. In fact, the meetings by these committees were conducted in almost clandestine fashion, giving no transparency to the process at all.
The NCAA is rightfully proud of their stance that we (meaning the institutions) are the NCAA, but in this case it became a special committee, which not only determined it would speak for the entire membership, but also kept the institutions in the dark during the final process, including the president who represents the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The flawed process raises the very fundamental question of whether this was an association recommendation or one driven by a small special interest group with personal agendas. A number of independent polls suggest that both specific American Indian populations, and those reflecting the population, conflict with the policy suggested by this committee.
An open and membership driven dialogue could have resulted in a discussion to attempt to determine the definition by which a symbol is deemed “hostile or abusive”, and would address the larger issue of whether its’ use should remain an institutional decision. The committee’s recommended policy change, and language, would seem to demand inclusion of an examination of additional symbols/mascots. It also suggests specifically that Warriors and Braves can be non-hostile or abusive. USC’s Trojan warrior on horseback with a sword might be considered hostile by some; this could be the case in numerous examples. Does this same committee decide which groups to assess next and which of those are hostile and abuse as well as which are not?
The nature of this process has played a large role in the fact that the resulting policy recommendation can be viewed as contradictory, hypocritical, inappropriate, inconsistent and embarrassing.
Among the most intolerable elements of the entire discussion is the fact that the very committee who built their platform on addressing “insensitivity” suggests that it should be palatable to the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Florida State University to “cover up its symbols” during NCAA championship events. This was the reasonable and thoughtful solution arrived at after “four years” of discussion; keeping in mind that the same committee came to a totally different conclusion a little more than two years ago. The ruling suggests that we can remain honored and proud to call ourselves Seminoles during the regular season but then must turn our heads on the Seminole Tribe of Florida when we compete in NCAA championships.
Why were FSU and the Seminole Tribe of Florida not extended the courtesy of addressing this committee regarding their relationship, history and feelings on this matter?
Why wasn’t the Seminole Tribe of Florida asked if they felt the use of their symbols represented hostile and/or abusive qualities. Why was there no invitation to testify?
The process is without credibility.
Why would the minority and opportunities committee seek only two people to testify before the committee on the issue; both were from the same school, a university who was an apparent target in these deliberations. The chair of the committee said recently that “the Tribe’s position made an impression,” when being asked about the relationship and formal approval of the Seminole Tribe of Florida regarding Florida State University utilizing the Seminole symbol. Apparently, not an indelible one.
The Chair of the NCAA Management Council was not informed of the policy change until the eleventh hour.
The ACC’s presidential representative on the Executive Committee didn’t know what the recommendation would be the day before the vote, nor did he even know there was any movement toward this not remaining an institutional decision.
The NCAA’s claim that this was discussed before the Management Council in July is a game of “stretch”. This issue was on the agenda but reported out as a 60-second brief update of “we continue to look at this issue.” This has been confirmed by people who were in the room. There was no indication that this was to be an ACTION item or discussion of penalties, parameters or direction. No input was requested.
The stealth nature of this process flies in the face of what the “association” processes should reflect. The inappropriate and inconsistent application of this recommendation is striking even to a casual observer. Who empowered this committee to define what is hostile and abusive and what is that definition?
To summarize, it is my very strong feeling that this decision was an abuse of discretion by this committee. Our University will pursue, through appropriate NCAA avenues, all remedies to appeal our inclusion on this list. If we do not receive a serious and open-minded response, we will continue to seek a more attentive and objective audience through the legal arena in order to uphold the privilege to call ourselves Seminoles.
As Athletics Director, I meet with each and every team as they report back for the beginning of a new academic year. I have always ended those sessions, after reviewing a variety of regulations and expectations, by saying to the student-athletes, “Be proud to call yourselves Seminoles”.
To this point I have this year met with our football and women’s soccer teams. It was very emotional for me to utter that closing statement in those two squad meetings this week. I saw the same emotion I felt reflected in the faces I looked into.
It is a privilege to call ourselves Seminoles and we have always treated it as such. We don’t belong on this list.
After the meeting, Mr. Hart added the following comments on this issue:
“Look around our University. Look at the University Center. Look at our School of Business. Look now at our College of Medicine. Look at our Athletics facilities. Look at our Merit Scholars. We are a young University and people have been telling Florida State University for decades that we couldn’t achieve this or that. What they always underestimate is the undying spirit of our alumni and fan base. Where does that come from? Who does that emulate? That’s who we are. We are Seminoles. We have learned to uphold the honor and privilege to demonstrate the spirit and determination through the examples history has recorded regarding the Seminole Tribe. That is a long way from abusive.”