I have mixed feelings about this issue… As a U of I alum, it was always a thrill to watch Chief perform at half-time, and then join thousands of other fans in singing the Illinois Alma Mater “Hail to the Orange”. On the other hand, the tide has been turning against Chief for the past few years, culminating in the recent demand from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Nation to return Chief Illiniwek’s regalia originally provided to the University 23 years ago.
Opponents of the Chief are celebrating this announcement as a victory over racism on campus. I don’t know if those people are just spinning the issue as much as possible for their own political gain, or if they’re actually naive enough (bordering on stupid) to believe that the absence of the Chief will make each and every racist asshole at U of I change the way he thinks.
Racism has been at the heart of this controversy for the past twenty years. However I believe the decision made by the U of I Board of Trustees had absolutely nothing to do with race or intolerance. The Trustees caved on this issue for one primary reason… Money.
The NCAA ban on schools using what they call “hostile and abusive American Indian nicknames” is preventing Illinois from hosting post-season tournament games. So far, this ban has only affected non-revenue sports like tennis and soccer. However, a disappointing basketball season will almost certainly result in Illinois being passed over for March Madness and instead accept an NIT bid instead. In the NIT, schools host their own home games, so the University would stand to lose a huge amount of money if those games were forced to be played elsewhere. It’s a simple issue of economics, not a leap forward in race relations. That’s unfortunate (pardon the pun), because the chance was there to do so much better.
I don’t understand why compromise never seemed to be a viable option. If the portrayal of Chief’s dance was inaccurate, let’s change it and make it right. If the costume or headdress is not what Illinois-area tribes would’ve worn, let’s do our best to make it authentic. This could’ve been an opportunity to work together to resolve a volatile situation. Instead, it just shows that political correctness is a function of who controls the money.
And eventually, when all this controversy is a footnote in the history books, no one will have cause to remember the Illiniwek indians at all.
Now that’s shameful.