The Thing Without Feathers

I graduated from the College of William in Mary in the early 70s, and back then it was different from other colleges. It wasn’t just that W&M was smaller, and had higher academic standards. It had also resisted a lot of the modern educational fads, and just wasn’t “with it” like other schools. It was full of geeks and nerds and studious types. In fact, that’s what we hippies used to complain about.

The years went by and the school continued to resist the zeitgeist. Every hole-in-the wall teachers’ college or secretarial school started calling itself a “university”, but W&M stuck to its traditions and remained “The College”. Oh, it had to add “diversity seminars” for its freshman and mandatory “date rape awareness training” for all those bad, bad, boys. But still — William and Mary was resisting the post-modern wave of politically correctness.

But not any longer . My alma mater has surrendered to the “Placate the Noble Savage” fad. I refer, of course, to the PC inquisition against colleges and schools that dare to use Indian-related names, logos, and mascots for their sports teams.

W&M logoWilliam and Mary’s athletic teams are “The Tribe”, and the W&M sports logo features a pair of feathers with the College’s initials. The NCAA has been fighting the school over those feathers for quite awhile. It could barely gulp the word “Tribe” down its PC craw without gagging, but the feathers were too much. They had to go.

The administration resisted for a long time, but it has finally caved. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the arrival of the new college president, Gene Nichol. But last month President Nichol raised the white flag and notified the students and alumni of the decision:

October 10, 2006

Dear Fellow Members of the William & Mary Community:

I write concerning the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s dispute with the College over our nickname and logo.

During the past several months, the NCAA has reviewed William & Mary’s athletic insignia to determine whether they constitute a violation of Association standards. On the more important front, the Committee concluded that the College’s use of the term “Tribe” reflects our community’s sense of shared commitment and common purpose. Accordingly, it will remain our nickname. The presence of two feathers on the logo, though, was ruled potentially “hostile and abusive.” We appealed that determination. The decision was sustained and has become final. We must now decide whether to institute legal action against the NCAA or begin the process of altering our logo.

I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for the College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. The Association has applied its mascot standards in ways so patently inconsistent and arbitrary as to demean the entire undertaking. Beyond this, William & Mary is widely acknowledged to be a principal exemplar of the NCAA’s purported, if unrealized, ideals.

– – – – – – – – – –

Not only are our athletic programs intensely competitive, but according to the Association’s own Academic Progress Reports, the College ranks fifth among all institutions of higher learning in scholastic excellence. Each year, we graduate approximately 95% of our senior student athletes. During the past decade, two William and Mary athletes have been named Rhodes Scholars and 42 elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the national honorary society founded at the College in 1776. Meanwhile, across the country, in the face of massive academic underperformance, embarrassing misbehaviors on and off the field, and grotesque commercialization of intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA has proven hapless, or worse. It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order.

Still, in consultation with our Board of Visitors, I have determined that I am unwilling to sue the NCAA to further press our claims. There are three reasons for my decision. I’ll explain them in order.

First, failing to adhere to the NCAA logo ruling would raise the substantial possibility that William & Mary athletes would be foreclosed from competing at the level their attainments and preparations merit. Two years ago, for example, we hosted a thrilling semifinal national championship football game against James Madison University. At present, we are barred from welcoming such a competition to Williamsburg — in football or any other sport. I believe it is our obligation to open doors of opportunity and challenge for our students, not to close them. I will not make our athletes pay for our broader disagreements with a governing association. We have also consulted with our coaches and student athletic advisory council on the matter. They are of the same mind.

Second, given the well-known challenges that this and other universities face — in assuring access to world-class education, in supporting the research and teaching efforts of our faculties, and in financing and constructing twenty-first-century laboratories and facilities — I am loath to divert further energies and resources to an expensive and perhaps multi-faceted lawsuit over an athletic logo. Governing requires the setting of priorities. And our fiercest challenges reside at the core of our mission. I know, of course, that more than one member of our understandably disgruntled community would likely be willing to help finance litigation against the NCAA. Those dollars are better spent in scholarship programs.

Third, the College of William & Mary is one of the most remarkable universities in the world. It was a national treasure even before there was a nation to treasure it. I am unwilling to allow it to become the symbol and lodestar for a prolonged struggle over Native American imagery that will likely be miscast and misunderstood — to the detriment of the institution. Our challenge is greatness. Our defining purpose is rooted in the highest ideals of human progress, achievement, service, and dignity. Those are the hallmarks of the College of William & Mary. They will remain so.

I know this decision will disappoint some among us. I am confident, however, that it is the correct course for the College. We are required to hold fast to our values whether the NCAA does so or not. In the weeks ahead, we will begin an inclusive process to consider options for an altered university logo. I invite you to participate. And I am immensely grateful for your efforts and energies on behalf of the College.

Go Tribe. Hark upon the gale.


Gene R. Nichol


In this case, as in so many others, the Indians themselves don’t object to the use of Indian-related symbols. There are two local Indian tribes just northwest of Williamsburg, the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi (pronounced Matta-Poe-NYE, in case you’re interested).

Neither of them objects to the feathers.

Va. Indians OK with W&M name

“When we take care of some of the poverty and crime and drug problems and that sort of thing in this country, then we’ll worry about names,” said William P. “Bill” Miles, chief of the Pamunkey Indians, whose reservation is in King William County.


“It’s a tribe. We root for those,” said Gertrude Minnie-Ha-Ha Custalow, historian for the Mattaponi Tribe, which lives on a reservation in King William. “I’ve never heard of any other tribes who think it’s improper.

“You know, sometimes this type of thing can get a little bit ridiculous.”

No kidding.

I’ve been to visit the museum on the Pamunkey reservation, and it’s a very interesting and informative place. History, archeology, cultural artifacts, and old photos — plenty of tribal material for the visitor to look at. But when you see the photo of the Pamunkey chief dressed up for a ceremony in a full-length feather headdress, you know it’s a put-on for the tourists. Anyone who has seen the 17th-century engravings of the Tidewater Indians made by the early settlers at Jamestown knows that the Virginia tribes didn’t look anything like the buckskin-and-feathers Indians. Those were much farther west, maybe on the Great Plains, but not on the Pamunkey river.

If anybody but the Indians themselves were to place such a getup on an Indian, it would be considered racial stereotyping and maybe even a hate crime. But Indians like to do that sort of thing.

In any case, I don’t have much hope, with or without feathers, for the future of William and Mary under the current PC onslaught. It doesn’t seem to matter what students, alumni, Virginia citizens, or local Indians think. The PC gods must be appeased. The feathers must go.

W&M logo, pluckedWith that in mind I have joined the “inclusive process to consider options for an altered university logo”. I present this design to the College free of charge. It is a logo befitting W&M’s new status as a craven appeaser of the forces of political correctness. A new mascot is in order, too — let’s call him “Plucky”.

Go, team!

15 thoughts on “The Thing Without Feathers

  1. Damn, Baron, you beat me to it: When I was reading this, I came up with the idea to replace the feathers with a chicken head, but then scrolled down to see your Entire Bird.

    This Chinese water torture of drip-drip-drip erosion of sanity and common sense is not funny, though, and has already weaked this nation.

    But, what can be done?

  2. As I see it, this tarpit developed because consideration of, for instance, the Indians’ ‘feelings’ about anything were considered at all. Or the Blacks. Or the Asians. Or now the Mexicans.

    The intent was never to insult; that’s all there should be to it. How did we get to the place where, when one CHOOSES to be offended (and it is a choice), that’s the trump card?

    Furthermore, how did the offended get the right not to be offended?

    The guy’s giving up the fight, he says, on behalf of the students’ opportunities, blah, blah. He’s just made an example of expediency trumping principle.

  3. Cindi–

    The irony is that if the Indidan’s “feelings” really were being taken into consideration, the Tribe would still have its feathers. It’s not about the Indians, it’s about what the policitally correct think the Indians should correctly feel. And if they don’t feel insulted, why it’s just because they don’t know any better.

    Yeah, this guys *is* a living, breathing example of smarmy expediency. I’ll have more to say on him later, but for the moment, I remind you that the incoming Secretary of Defense is also a university president. “Smarm” is their middle name.

    BTW, the Baron went over to the athletic page of W&M and the banner ad for the opening page has no male athletes on it. None. As he says, pretty soon the boys will be required to wear testosterone-reducing patches. Can’t have any real males around.

  4. It’s really too bad, WM didn’t sue the NCAA. Then those worthies could explain why the feathers are bad but the Florida State Seminoles are still OK. Could it be, oh say, the money?

    Cheers. (MIZZOU ’82,’84,’87)

  5. There was a post recently on another site which referred to a newspaper article about this same president’s decision to remove the cross from the altar in the 400 year old Wren chapel on campus. A W&M administrator, Melissa Engimann, said the idea was to make the chapel “a less faith-specific place.” Apparently the two foot high cross is to be banished to some closet and only taken out for Christian events. In an e-mail to the college community, William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol said:

    “Questions have lately been raised about the use of the Wren Chapel and the cross that is sometimes displayed there.

    “Let me be clear. I have not banished the cross from the Wren Chapel. The chapel, as you know, is used for religious ceremonies by members of all faiths. The cross will remain in the chapel and be displayed on the altar at appropriate religious services.

    “But the chapel is also used frequently for college events that are secular in nature — and should be open to students and staff of all beliefs. Whether celebrating our happiest moments, marking our greatest achievements, or finding solace during our most profound sadness, our chapel, like our entire campus, must be welcoming to all.

    “I believe a recognition of the full dignity of each member of our diverse community is vital.”

    My guess is that creeping Sharia has struck again.

  6. So, the chapel “… should be open to students and staff of all beliefs.”

    And the presence of the cross would mean it is not “open”? Are we being inclusive of vampires, now?

  7. Hmmmm.

    I’m going to repeat what has been repeatedly pointed out by Native Americans, i.e. “indians”, that if it weren’t for these sports teams the very existence of Native Americans would simply be eradicated from the national conciousness. Seriously. When was the last time you heard anything in the national news that concerned Native Americans or their tribes?

    Additionally the connection between sports teams and Native Americans promotes the positive images of strength, endurance, toughness, sportsmanship and triumph.

    Frankly I think of any number of things that would be far more demeaning than being equated with victory.

  8. A very disturbing article, Baron. But could someone explain to us ignorant Europeans why Indian – or native American – symbols like feathers can upset or offend the political correct saints ? – I mean, over here we use such symbols all the time, like the Viking’s horned (or is that horny?) helmets, Thor’s hammer, Celtic stones, ancient Greek pilasters etc…

    And – slightly OT – I just saw this on a German blog. It’s about the US midterms elections and reports that a Muslim fellow got elected to the House of Reps. and a known Hizbollah supporter was appointed as a judge ???

    If true, I’m looking forward to next standard comment from our American friends : “Europe is doomed”.

    Islamerica then…. ?

  9. Kepi, you’re confusing me with Zerosumgame. I don’t think Europe is doomed. Not all of it anyway — Denmark has a better chance than we do, I think.

    But Europe takes its turn first. The process as it unfolds in France or Belgium or Sweden is way ahead of where we are. We’ll catch up eventually, though.

    One other difference: the average American, who is not at all PC, is also, as a rule, VERY WELL-ARMED.

    Don’t forget that one.

  10. kepiblanc, Ze Germans are confused: Alcee Hastings was a federal court judge who was impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate, who then was elected to a House seat in Florida.

    He’s on tape taking a 150 K bribe

  11. Dymphna –

    I got the faux PC offense on behalf of others on one. That’s the way it is now.

    When all this crap started, however, early 70’s IIRC, it was every hyphenated-American group in the country, including the Indians, getting in their licks. That it is now the militant being ridiculous on behalf of the incredulous is simply the communist/socialist/totalitarians doing what they always do: mind/speech control.

  12. Let’s be fair. There are University presidents, and there are University presidents. Incoming Secy defense Robert Gates was the president of Texas A&M University, not generally known as a hotbed of political correctness. (Nor, for that matter, as a hotbed of discrimination.) Gates, far from wrecking the place, made it that much better on his watch.

  13. Hmmm.

    1. A muslim, actually Nation of Islam follower, was elected to the House of Representatives. Almost entirely due to the efforts of a local newspaper who avoided printing any mention of the man being an active member of the Nation of Islam.

    And yes the newspaper is leftist.

    2. No idea about the judge. But we watch judges very closely here in the US. If he steps out of bounds he’ll be removed from the bench or shifted to traffic court very quickly.

    3. Like the Baron wrote, whatever happens will happen to you first. And so we’ve got a much better chance of waking up to the dangers.

    4. America is one of the most heavily armed nations on the planet. In fact we’ve got around 300 million citizens and over 450 million guns. Don’t even ask about ammunition, that’s in the billions or even trillions of rounds.

    Heck a guy I know has a WWII era 40mm anti-tank cannon. With ammo.

    5. America is also one of the most heavily militarized nations on the planet. Many of our citizens are veterans of the military. Approximately 44 million out of 300 million are veterans. And many of those are combat veterans who have fought in various wars and conflicts.

    And yes I’m one too as I had served in the United States Marine Corps in my youth.

    *shrug* A lot of people theorise about America without ever really understanding America. Yet it’s extremely simple. We’ll be patient right up until it’s no longer useful and then we’ll kill anyone and everyone who so much as looks at us funny.

    People like to pretend America is weak. But we’re essentially the same as our parents and grandparents. And they were the ones that firebombed Dresden into a half-molten wreck. Repeatedly firebombed Tokyo until it was ash. And nuked those two Japanese cities.

    I know a lot of muslims think that America will never treat them in a similar fashion because we’ve been very careful of their feelings. But you’ll see just how quickly that facade fades away if/when it becomes necessary.

    I assure you. If it comes down to a choice between America and 1.2 billion muslims. There’s going to be a need for 1.2 billion graves.

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