Illinois University's New Nickname - "The Losers"
It's Not Just About Sports

March Madness has once more come and gone and the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, obviously dropped the ball - again.

No, 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.

One needs to wonder why.

If 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.

Or 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  What does the Board gain by clinging so fearfully to such a dubious, divisive, and outdated practice?  

Is 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?

Moreover, 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.

  Contemptible and bewildering doesn't begin to describe the Board's ongoing and inexcusable failings.

One 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 shadows "the Chief" and the needless misfortune it embodies extends far beyond the playing field or court and into the very heart of the University itself.

The 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.  

Time 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.


American Indian Sports Team Mascots 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005
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