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Well, it finally happened. America’s second-oldest institution for higher education has decided on its mascot. The College of William & Mary, founded by King William III and Queen Mary II of England in 1693, has once again changed its mascot. The winner . . . (drum roll please) . . . a “Griffin!”
What is a griffin you might ask? First, you need to know a little history. From 1916 until 1977, the school’s nickname was “The Indians.” However, in 1977, amidst concerns of racism and prejudice against Native Americans, the school changed its nickname to “The Tribe.” More recently, in 2006, the NCAA ruled that the school’s mascot (at the time two green and gold feathers) could “create an environment that is offensive to the American Indian community.”
As a result, the school embarked on a mascot search that concluded only last week with the announcement of the new mascot. According to the popular sports blog Deadspin.com, a griffin is just another name for a “pantsless man-bird.” In addition, television personality and 1984 William & Mary graduate Jon Stewart referred to it as, “Ancient Greek for the rare pantsless tailed eagle,” on his popular program The Daily Show. In reality, a griffin is a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle, whose origins date back to around the fifth century B.C., most likely from the Archaemenid Persian Empire.
During the unveiling ceremony, school president Taylor Reveley opined that they finally had “a mascot that unites strength with intelligence, recalls our royal origins, and speaks to our deep roots in American history.” (Query how a mythological creature with historical roots tied to Central Asia speaks to deep roots in American history.)
That’s all fine and good. The NCAA is no stranger to forcing schools with Native American themed mascots to change their nickname as well as their mascot. However, this one seems borderline laughable. If I understand things correctly, the school is still going to be called “The Tribe,” but the mascot is going to be a half-naked eagle? At what point will the NCAA stop its quest to remain supreme dictator over every college and university in America’s athletic programs? It already seems a foregone conclusion that the NCAA is going to change its Division-I basketball tournament from its current 64-team field to a 96-team field, despite its lack of ANY public support. The NCAA seems fairly content to essentially mandate changes to things that compose the fabric of American lives; schools and their mascots bring both young and old alums together under a common thread. Now, three generations of William & Mary alums will respectively have three different mascots; none of which will have much correlation to one another, if any.
Great, so why is this on a legal blog? The NCAA’s ever-reliable argument when it takes unilateral action is that they are a “voluntary organization,” and schools can choose whether or not they want to participate. While this statement is technically true, I challenge even the most devoted sports fan to name another collegiate athletic association. (Yes, I know the NAIA exists, but does that even really count?) At what point does the NCAA cease to be a voluntary organization and become the only game in town, such that the First Amendment concerns of schools like William & Mary can finally be raised? Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later — otherwise we may all be subjected to half-naked medieval creatures running around our alma maters and favorite sports arenas.
-- Richard Jacques
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