Madness has once more come and gone and the University of Illinois,
Champaign-Urbana, obviously dropped the ball - again.
it's not just about the University's basketball team ending up second
place national champion, an admirable feat in itself. Nor
can anything be taken away from the University's athletes, whose
prowess and dedication are unquestioned. Rather, it is the
University at-large that is the loser. For by failing to
retire its ethnic sports team token, the so-called "Chief,"
the University's Board of Trustees continues to bring widespread
public shame, derision, and unnecessary financial burden upon
what is an otherwise world class institution.
needs to wonder why.
the "Chief" is intended as a "tribute" and "gesture of honor"
toward American Indian peoples, as proponents of the ethnic token
blindly parrot, then why has the Board of Trustees consistently ignored
the patient, reasoned requests made about this matter by virtually every
respectable American Indian advocacy group in the United States
who simply ask that ethnic sports team tokens like "the
Chief" be retired? And why has the Board not heeded similar
positions voiced on this issue by any number of responsible religious,
educational, and civil rights organizations, a significant number
of its own faculty, and even the United
States Commission on Civil Rights? Given these undisputable facts, how can
the University possibly be "honoring" American Indian
peoples by ignoring wholly justified and oft repeated concerns? The disingenuous
hypocrisy of such a feeble stance can scarcely be overstated and is as
transparent as the Board's apparent cowardice. As always,
actions, or in the Board's case, inactions, speak louder than words
and just saying something doesn't make it so, especially in light of
overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
is it that
the Board of Trustees really thinks that all of the negative attention
it attracts to the University as the result of its obstinate refusal
to embrace enlightened change is more advantageous than doing the
right thing, an action which will ultimately occur regardless of the
Board's endless stalling? What does the Board gain by clinging so
fearfully to such a dubious, divisive, and outdated practice?
it really about alumnus contribution money? If so, then the Board
of Trustees has also disregarded well-documented histories of other
premier universities that have retired "Indian" sports
team tokens and suffered no resultant economic woes whatsoever.
Besides, if an alumni need attach such importance to something as
mundane as a sports team icon and would threaten to withhold a
donation if it were to be retired, then how shallow a commitment to
the University must they truly possess?
now the University faces a new "Chief" related lawsuit which
will compel it to waste even more valuable financial resources in its defense,
monies that would be much better spent on education rather than on a
futile attempt to prop up a teetering and outdated tradition that's
better suited to a 1950's Hollywood movie
than 21st century America or a publicly
funded university. This new
expense, in addition to associated prior legal judgments against the
University and the over one-half million dollars it spent on the
specious "Chief Illiniwek Dialogue" report, only serves to
illustrate the Board's gross negligence, lack of vision, and blatant disregard for fiscal competency.
bewildering doesn't begin to describe the Board's ongoing and inexcusable
recent news article that received national distribution
light-heartedly directed a jinx at the University. Its author, George
Benge, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, said, "A Native-American elder - me - is invoking the Curse of Illiniwek on the Illinois basketball team. This means that Illinois will not win the championship this year - or any year - as long as Chief Illiniwek exists."
While the effectiveness of such an incantation might be
debated, the University's inability to bring its unwelcome sports team
token to the Final Four playoffs, and elsewhere, certainly does
nothing to help boost the spirit of players and fans alike.
Maybe if the University had an alternative sports team icon it would have
made a difference. Who knows? But what is certain is that a dark and growing cloud
Chief" and the needless misfortune it embodies extends far beyond
the playing field or court and into the very heart of the University
time is long overdue for the University of Illinois to select a new sports team icon. One that is
unique, contemporary, genuinely suitable for all people, and for a
publicly funded institution of higher
learning with a stature like that held by the University of Illinois.
will inevitably bring change and it is, therefore, really not a question of
"if" the "Chief" will be retired, but only of
"when." It remains within the Board's purview to
choose whether the
transition takes place in an ordered, positive manner or is forced
through ever-expanding controversy, bad publicity, financial loss, and general negativity.
Hopefully, the wise, compassionate, and enlightened choice will, at
long last, be embraced.