U of U May Ask for Exemption on Use of Nickname

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- University of Utah officials may appeal with the NCAA Executive Committee for an exemption that allows the school to use it's Ute nickname.

Last week the athletic association's committee of 12 university presidents and chancellors said that 18 schools should abandon the use of nicknames, mascots and imagery that are hostile or abusive toward American Indians when hosting or playing in NCAA events.

"Obviously, we want them to change their minds on this," says University of Utah President Michael Young.

The school does have the support and key Ute tribe members and that may be critical in a fight to keep the Ute nickname, which the school has used since 1972.

In a statement this week, NCAA President Myles Brand said committee members must take claims of tribal support "seriously." Still, he compared the use of such nicknames to the "contempt" African-Americans felt was reflected for their race with "black-face minstrel shows."

"We would not think of allowing nicknames or mascots that disrespect African-Americans," Brand said.

But Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake branch, said the university should do more than just get permission from the Ute tribal leader. Instead, she thinks the schools should ask how many Utes members get scholarships, jobs or seats in a classroom.

"It goes far beyond a name," said Williams.

University Vice President for University Relations said the level of agreement between the school and the Ute tribe may not be understood.

"We use the Ute name with permission, and the Ute tribe has consistently over a period of decades been very supportive," said Esplin. "What was a surprise to us was that (the NCAA) included us among the apparently worst offenders. We certainly don't consider what we do in this regard as abusive or hostile frankly, we're offended that would be suggested."

Problem schools are those that use caricatures of American Indian imagery or white people who dress up like Indians and perform during halftime.

Those kind of actions haven't occurred in Utah "for decades," Esplin said. The university uses a block "U" as its main logo or in the alternative, a circle with a feather representing a drum.

Young said a a survey of university of trustees, alumni and other groups will be asked to weigh in on the issue and to review the schools use of and behavior related to the Ute nickname.

"We're on a list," Young said. "I wouldn't say we don't have anything to worry about, because we just don't know. We really have a long tradition with the name Utes, and we'd very much like to keep using that."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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