Dr. Myles Brand
National Collegiate Athletic Association
Indianapolis, IN 46202
VIA FACSIMILE: 317/917-6888
Dear President Brand:
The Florida State University family – its alumni, supporters and friends, including government and civic leaders – is offended by the inclusion of Florida State University on the NCAA’s list of 18 colleges and universities that it says “display hostile or abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery.”
The purpose of this letter is to appeal the August 4 decision of the NCAA Executive Committee. We request that the NCAA immediately remove Florida State University’s name from this list because neither the name “Florida State Seminoles” nor any imagery that the university uses is “hostile or abusive” or disrespectful.
In fact, the opposite is true. We have a nearly 60-year history of honoring the Florida Seminoles. We believe use of the name “Florida State Seminoles,” as well as our tradition of tribute to the “unconquered” Florida Seminoles, is consistent with the core values and principles of the NCAA Constitution as described in your August 9 letter.
It is clear to us that the NCAA’s process of adopting this new policy was seriously flawed and undemocratic. A more open atmosphere and opportunity for in-person, two-way communication on an issue that NCAA Executive Committee members, themselves, have called “complex” could have averted this faulty policy. The obvious lack of accurate and well-documented information on this issue highlights the flaws in this process.
“Florida State Seminoles” is not a nickname. It is, rather, a name that we use to identify not only our athletics teams but also many other internal and external groups because it represents traits of a heroic people whom we admire and would like to emulate.
The name “Florida State Seminoles” was selected by vote of the university student body in 1947, when FSU became a co-educational institution. The name was selected to specifically honor the indomitable spirit of the Florida Seminoles – those people whom the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s history refers to as the “few hundred unconquered Seminole men, women and children left – all hiding in the swamps and Everglades of South Florida.” The name honors the bravery, courage, strength and determination of these people, who never surrendered and persevered to preserve their heritage and traditions, and who in 1842 were finally left at peace – free at last from government oppression.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida comprises the vast majority of those survivors in Florida, and it has supported Florida State University’s use of the name informally for decades.
On June 17, 2005, the Tribal Council of the Seminole Tribe of Florida voted unanimously in favor of a written resolution to reaffirm its ongoing support of the university’s use of its name and symbols. The significance of putting this resolution in writing is enhanced by the fact that traditionally the Seminole Tribe of Florida has not seen the need to commit these kinds of relationships or agreements to writing. Their word is their bond. During the presentation of that resolution to me at the Tribe’s Big Cypress Reservation, Tribal Council member Max Osceola said, “We have to respect each other’s views, and in the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s view, you honor us by using the name Seminole.”
As for the NCAA’s concern about “mascots,” we do not have them at the university. We use imagery in a tradition of tribute to the Florida Seminoles – namely a horse, a rider and a flaming spear – all of which were created after consultation with and the concurrence of the leadership of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
To correct the record, there are two separate and sovereign tribes – the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Our use of the name is founded upon our understanding of the tribal sovereignty of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and its history as an “unconquered” people. We embrace all Seminoles. In fact, one of our “Seminole Scholars” is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Under the university’s Seminole Scholarship Program, all Seminole Scholars receive our highest-level scholarship.
Contrary to the NCAA’s statements, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is on record as unopposed to the use of the Seminole name. This past July, the Seminole Nation General Council, the legislative body for the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, resoundingly defeated a motion to denounce the use of Native American nicknames and images in sports and other events. The vote was 18-2.
Moreover, Ken Chambers, principal chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, has said publicly that the name “gives the type of recognition that allows people to identify with the name Seminoles.” He also said, “As far as the mascot itself, it is not degrading to us. It is not humiliating.”
In addition, Kelly Haney, a former Oklahoma state senator who will become the principal chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in September, also has publicly said that his position is that “if the Seminoles in Florida decide it’s OK with them, I have no problems with it.”
In light of all this and in accordance with your August 9 letter, we are copying the NCAA Executive Committee’s Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity Issues so that it can reconsider the applicability of this new policy to Florida State University. We are also asking the Executive Committee to act – just as swiftly as it approved this new policy last week – to remove the name of Florida State University from the list of 18 said to be using “hostile and abusive” names and imagery. We hope to have the NCAA’s decision no later than August 29 – the opening of fall classes – so that we can get back to the business of higher education.
As for your letter’s suggestion of a second avenue for challenging this policy, we suggest the policy be amended to recognize and respect tribal sovereignty and the rights of each tribe to determine whether their names are being used appropriately. Therefore, we urge that the Executive Committee ultimately remove from its list all colleges and universities whose “namesake tribes” have officially supported the use of their name and symbols. In our case, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is our “namesake tribe.”
The Executive Committee should consider what the American Indian Policy Center has said about Indian sovereignty: “The framers of the United States Constitution specifically recognized the sovereignty of Indian tribes. In Article 1, section 8, clause 3 of the Constitution, Congress is identified as the governmental branch authorized to regulate commerce with `foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian tribes [italics added].’ The Supreme Court reaffirmed this legal and political standing of Indian nations in a set of three 19th century court decisions known as the Marshall Trilogy. These cases serve as cornerstones to understanding Indian sovereignty in the U.S. political system as a clearly defined legal status that has constitutional standing.”
Florida State University and other universities have developed mutually beneficial relationships with their “namesake tribes” that have led to better understanding of Native American heritage and even increased opportunities for the higher education of young tribe members. As your letter suggests, we are copying the “respective divisional presidential governing body” so that they might support this amendment and develop a recommendation to the NCAA Executive Committee.
We believe that each and every college and university should bear the sole responsibility for respect and dignity in connection with namesakes, regardless of their derivation. To that end, we suggest that the NCAA heed the comment of its own Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct, which is summarized in the October 2002 NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee Report, that “such issues may be addressed most effectively by the individual institution, its community and its conference, rather than at the national level.”
Finally, we hope that we can hold you to what you said in your remarks at the NCAA annual convention: “The democratic process through representative governance determines what decisions will be made (by the NCAA). And the driving force – the agents of change – in this process are the college and university presidents.” But we believe a truly democratic process would not ignore the special relationships between colleges and universities and their “namesake tribes.”
Florida State University
Cc: Mitchell Cypress, Chairman, Tribal Council, Seminole Tribe of Florida
Moses B. Osceola, Vice Chairman, Tribal Council, Seminole Tribe of Florida
Max B. Osceola Jr., Hollywood Representative, Tribal Council, Seminole Tribe
Andrew Bowers Jr., Brighton Representative, Tribal Council,
Seminole Tribe of Florida
David Cypress, Big Cypress Representative, Tribal Council,
Seminole Tribe of Florida
O.B. Osceola Jr., Tribal Liaison – Naples, Seminole Tribe of Florida
William Osceola, Tribal Liaison – Tamiami Trail, Seminole Tribe of Florida
Sally Tommie, Tribal Liaison – Fort Pierce, Seminole Tribe of Florida
Ralph Sanchez, Tribal Liaison – Immokalee, Seminole Tribe of Florida
Richard Henry, Tribal Liaison – Tampa, Seminole Tribe of Florida
Florida State University Board of Trustees
Florida Board of Governors
Florida State Board of Education
Jeb Bush, Florida Governor
Charlie Crist, Florida Attorney General
Tom Gallagher, Florida Chief Financial Officer
Charles Bronson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture
Florida Congressional Delegation
Allan Bense, Florida Speaker of the House
Tom Lee, Florida Senate President
Florida State University State Legislative Caucus
Atlantic Coast Conference University Presidents
Ron Wellman, Chair, NCAA Management Council
John Swofford, Commissioner, Atlantic Coast Conference
Other Conference Commissioners
Walter Harrison, Chair, NCAA Executive Committee
Clinton Bristow Jr., Chair, NCAA Subcommittee on Gender & Diversity Issues
Phillip Austin, Chair, NCAA Division I Board of Directors
Bernard Franklin, NCAA Senior Vice President for Governance and Membership
Charlotte Westerhaus, NCAA Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion
David Berst, NCAA Vice President for Division I Governance
Florida State University Faculty Senate Steering Committee
Florida State University Student Government Association
Florida State University Alumni Association
Florida State University Foundation
Florida State University Seminole Boosters, Inc.
Florida State University Research Foundation