Bowing to pressure from animal rights activists, the National Collegiate Athletic Association says it will phase out the use of leather balls in its tournaments because they are cruel to cows, reports The Associated Press.

The NCAA will instead start using balls made of synthetic materials.

"We're always looking for new ways to prevent animal cruelty," said Dan Shannon, coordinator of PETA's Sports Campaign and one of the people pushing for the change. "We know now not to use fur anymore. We've moved on to leather. Wearing leather isn't a lot different than wearing fur."

PETA sent the NCAA a package of vegan chocolate basketballs as a thank you, along with a note saying, "Thank you for moo-ving away from leather!"

The group has begun talks with the NBA about switching its basketballs, and also has contacted major league baseball and the NFL about switching the compositions of baseballs and footballs to a synthetic substance. 

Adventures in Etymology

Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania has begun allowing students of the opposite sex to room together in school dorms because gays on campus complained that earlier rules requiring them to be of the same sex were "heterosexist," reports The New York Times.

Some gay students complained that they were uncomfortable sharing living space with a roommate of the same sex because of either homophobia or sexual tension.

"I live with straight guys now, and I definitely see the sexual tensions, which have made me very uncomfortable," said one student, who described himself as "homoflexible."

The Swarthmore initiative follows efforts at other schools to create housing specifically for gay and lesbian students. At the University of Massachusetts, for example, a couple dozen gay, lesbian and bisexual students live on a dedicated floor in a dormitory, and Wesleyan University has a so-called Open House, a residence for the "queer, questioning, and those interested in queer culture." 

7-Up on the Ropes

Human rights groups say a new 7-Up commercial featuring a spokesman pitching the product in prison and alluding to rape makes light of a very serious issue and should be taken off the air, reports Mother Jones magazine.

In the ad, a 7-Up marketing exec doles out cans of soda to prison inmates but refuses to bend over and pick up a can he drops. At the end of the commercial, the pitchman sits uncomfortably in a prison cell as a much larger inmate suggestively puts his arm around him.

Los Angeles-based Stop Prison Rape says the ad is demeaning.

"Prisoner rape is commonly the subject of jokes, but by pandering to this insensitivity, your company is only perpetuating callousness regarding this horrific, widespread abuse," a group of activists, including SPR, stated in a letter to executives at Dr. Pepper/7-Up Inc. 

Grating Gritty

The U.K.'s Home Office minister is under fire from police for using the phrase "nitty gritty" in a speech because officers are prohibited from using it under race relations rules, reports The Times of London.

In a debate at a police convention, John Denham said it was time to "get down to the nitty gritty" on police training. He was immediately informed that the term was banned because it dates from the slavery era and is said to originate from slave traders' phrase for the debris left at the bottom of a slave ship after a voyage.

Officers' representative David Nixon said he had dealt with several cases where officers have been accused of breaching the police code of conduct for using such apparently innocuous words or phrases.

"It's a hugely problematic area. You can find officers in trouble through no awareness that they were doing something wrong," Nixon said. "Policemen are treading into minefields because we have a discipline system that will automatically look at complaints like this."

Life Lessons

Boy Scouts in Hawaii will not be allowed to encourage or require members to memorize or say the Scouts' oath because it includes the promise of duty to God, reports the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

The Scouts, if they wish to continue using school facilities, also will have to restrict the activities of its Learning for Life program in public schools. The program has been running there for 25 years. It teaches character building and offers day or overnight camps to elementary students and career education for high school students.

The new restrictions were imposed after two groups, Scouting for All and Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. The groups wanted the Scouts banned from public schools altogether because of the group's national policy barring homosexuals from serving as adult leaders and the reference to God in its oath, which the groups said discriminates against atheists, agnostics and others. 

Pledging Allegiance

For a course required of all Women's Studies graduates, a professor at the University of South Carolina requires her students to affirm their belief in the multicultural agenda, reports the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

A syllabus for the course, "Women's Studies 797: Seminar in Women's Studies," specifies that classroom participation counts for 20 percent of a student's overall grade. The professor, Lynn Weber, says in her "Guidelines for Classroom Discussion" that in order to participate in class students must "acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and other institutionalized forms of oppression exist."

Weber also says students must assume "we are all systematically taught misinformation about our own group and about members of other groups," that "this is true for members of privileged and oppressed groups" and that students must "agree to combat actively the myths and stereotypes about our own groups and other groups."

In a letter to the president of the university, FIRE pointed out the contradiction between the goals of a liberal arts institution and such forced imposition of political beliefs.

"A public university, or, indeed, any university that honors academic freedom, may not stipulate a commitment to any ideology as a condition of participation in the classroom — let alone tell students what their beliefs must be in order to attain a degree in a given field," FIRE said.

Spammers, Maybe?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is demanding that Austin High School in Minnesota stop using the nickname "Packers" because it is offensive, reports the AP.

PETA recently sent a letter to the principal of Austin High School, saying being named after slaughterhouse workers is "nothing to be proud of." The group suggests a better name would be "Pickers," which would promote a healthier, plant-based diet.

School officials don't plan to change the nickname.

Austin is the home of Hormel Foods Corporation, maker of SPAM luncheon meat. Packers is short for meatpackers. 

Mailbag: 

Anthony N. from Tucson, Ariz., writes:

As a senior at the University of Arizona, I'm proud to say that the student body shrugged off UA President Peter Likins plea of political correctness at this year’s commencement. Despite a several minute-long speech at the ceremony, in which President Likins asked that we not waste food and not risk offending Mexicans by tossing the tortillas, I am happy to say the graduating students booed President Likins and let the tortillas fly. And that includes many of our Hispanic students with whom President Likins was so worried about offending. It makes me proud to be a UA student, and I'm looking forward to tossing my own tortillas next May!

Jon M. in Boston, Mass., writes:

Once again Fox News expands my mind and opinions. I am ashamed to admit that I have always thought of tortillas as just a tasty bread product. I was completely ignorant to the fact that handling one improperly was a cultural or racial offence.

Spencer B. writes:

The lady who covered "Heart of Dixie" isn't PC. She wasn't taking away anyone else's right to speak — she was just protecting her own right. Remember that freedom of speech means freedom NOT to speak as well.

Steve O. writes:

The "offensiveness" that some find in the term "Dixie" makes me wonder: Are these people offended by the following: chocolate, spices, cotton, agricultural products? All these had a very close relationship to slavery. Much closer than the term "Dixie." Their attitude is unfortunate and ignorant.

Ron J. in Raleigh, N.C., writes:

If colleges would expend more effort on educating students and less time worrying about the names of their mascots maybe our educational system would be in better shape.

Walter K. in Birmingham, Ala., writes:

Kristine Lester, 18, high school senior in Sacramento, Calif., said she is being discriminated against because the school will not let her run for prom king? Since when does being gay change your gender? Perhaps if she were a transsexual or intersexed she might at least be able to make a rational argument. I'm not sure if I'm more upset by her sexual confusion or the school’s failure to make her smart enough to make a rational argument.

Jim E. in Colorado Springs, Colo., writes:

If Sonoma State U. is removing the name Cossacks because of a connection to anti-semitism, then shouldn't Seawolves also be banned? In WWII, the German Nazi U-boat divisions got the name "Wolf pack." Since these subs prowled the seas, I'm sure some PC-aholic out there will cry foul when they connect the idea of wolf, from wolf pack, and sea, from the environment they operated in, and come up with an anti-semitic conclusion of Seawolf. Good grief! I'm all for a 'United' states, but any time California wants to secede then I can make an exception.

Respond to the Writer