Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nicknames blame game

By George F. Will

WASHINGTON - The University of Illinois must soon decide whether, and if so how, to fight an exceedingly silly edict from the NCAA. That organization's primary function is to require college athletics to be no more crassly exploitative and commercial than is absolutely necessary. But now the NCAA is going to police cultural sensitivity, as it understands that. Hence the decision to declare Chief Illiniwek "hostile and abusive" to Native Americans.
Censorship - e.g., campus speech codes - often are academic liberalism's preferred instrument of social improvement, and now the NCAA's censors say: The chief must go, as must the university's logo of a Native American in feathered headdress. Otherwise, the NCAA will not allow the university to host any postseason tournaments or events.

This story of progress, as progressives understand that, began during halftime of a football game in 1926, when an undergraduate studying Indian culture performed a dance dressed as a chief. Since then, a student has always served as Chief Illiniwek, who has become the symbol of the university that serves a state named after the Illini confederation of about a half-dozen tribes that were virtually annihilated in the 1760s by rival tribes.
In 1930, the student then portraying Chief Illiniwek traveled to South Dakota to receive authentic raiment from the Oglala Sioux. In 1967 and 1982, representatives of the Sioux came to the Champaign-Urbana campus to augment the outfits Chief Illiniwek wears at football and basketball games. But one of America's booming businesses is the indignation industry that manufactures the synthetic outrage needed to fuel identity politics.

The NCAA is allowing Florida State University and the University of Utah to continue calling their teams Seminoles and Utes, respectively, because those two tribes approve of the tradition. The Saginaw Chippewa tribe starchily denounces any "outside entity" - that would be you, NCAA - that would disrupt the tribe's "rich relationship" with Central Michigan University and its teams, the Chippewas. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke can continue calling its teams the Braves. Bravery is a virtue, so perhaps the 21 percent of the school's students who are Native Americans consider the name a compliment.

The only remnant of the Illini confederation, the Peoria tribe, is in Oklahoma. Under its chief, John Froman, the tribe is too busy running a casino and golf course to care about Chief Illiniwek.

The NCAA ethicists probably reason that the chief must go because no portion of the Illini confederation remains to defend him. Or to be offended by him, but never mind that, or this: In 2002, Sports Illustrated published a poll of 352 Native Americans, 217 living on reservations, 134 living off. Eighty-one percent said high school and college teams should not stop using Indian nicknames.

But in any case, why should anyone's disapproval of a nickname doom it? Civilization depends on, and civility often requires, the willingness to say, "What you are doing is none of my business" and "What I am doing is none of your business." But this is an age when being an offended busybody is considered evidence of advanced thinking and an exquisite sensibility.

In 1972, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst replaced the nickname Redmen with Minutemen. White men carrying guns? If some advanced thinkers are made miserable by this, will the NCAA's censors offer relief? Scottsdale Community College in Arizona was wise to adopt the nickname "Fighting Artichokes." There is no grievance group representing the lacerated feelings of artichokes. Yet.

By George F. Will

WASHINGTON - The University of Illinois must soon decide whether, and if so how, to fight an exceedingly silly edict from the NCAA. That organization's primary function is to require college athletics to be no more crassly exploitative and commercial than is absolutely necessary. But now the NCAA is going to police cultural sensitivity, as it understands that. Hence the decision to declare Chief Illiniwek "hostile and abusive" to Native Americans.
Censorship - e.g., campus speech codes - often are academic liberalism's preferred instrument of social improvement, and now the NCAA's censors say: The chief must go, as must the university's logo of a Native American in feathered headdress. Otherwise, the NCAA will not allow the university to host any postseason tournaments or events.

This story of progress, as progressives understand that, began during halftime of a football game in 1926, when an undergraduate studying Indian culture performed a dance dressed as a chief. Since then, a student has always served as Chief Illiniwek, who has become the symbol of the university that serves a state named after the Illini confederation of about a half-dozen tribes that were virtually annihilated in the 1760s by rival tribes.
In 1930, the student then portraying Chief Illiniwek traveled to South Dakota to receive authentic raiment from the Oglala Sioux. In 1967 and 1982, representatives of the Sioux came to the Champaign-Urbana campus to augment the outfits Chief Illiniwek wears at football and basketball games. But one of America's booming businesses is the indignation industry that manufactures the synthetic outrage needed to fuel identity politics.

The NCAA is allowing Florida State University and the University of Utah to continue calling their teams Seminoles and Utes, respectively, because those two tribes approve of the tradition. The Saginaw Chippewa tribe starchily denounces any "outside entity" - that would be you, NCAA - that would disrupt the tribe's "rich relationship" with Central Michigan University and its teams, the Chippewas. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke can continue calling its teams the Braves. Bravery is a virtue, so perhaps the 21 percent of the school's students who are Native Americans consider the name a compliment.

The only remnant of the Illini confederation, the Peoria tribe, is in Oklahoma. Under its chief, John Froman, the tribe is too busy running a casino and golf course to care about Chief Illiniwek.

The NCAA ethicists probably reason that the chief must go because no portion of the Illini confederation remains to defend him. Or to be offended by him, but never mind that, or this: In 2002, Sports Illustrated published a poll of 352 Native Americans, 217 living on reservations, 134 living off. Eighty-one percent said high school and college teams should not stop using Indian nicknames.

But in any case, why should anyone's disapproval of a nickname doom it? Civilization depends on, and civility often requires, the willingness to say, "What you are doing is none of my business" and "What I am doing is none of your business." But this is an age when being an offended busybody is considered evidence of advanced thinking and an exquisite sensibility.

In 1972, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst replaced the nickname Redmen with Minutemen. White men carrying guns? If some advanced thinkers are made miserable by this, will the NCAA's censors offer relief? Scottsdale Community College in Arizona was wise to adopt the nickname "Fighting Artichokes." There is no grievance group representing the lacerated feelings of artichokes. Yet.

3 Comments:

Anonymous terrymum said...

oh get real....anyone who compares "spear chucker" and "afro puff" to "braves" or "Indians" or "Red Men" is not really being linguistically honest. A more apt comparison would be teams called "the Negroes" or "The Washington Blacks". OR maybe "The Bucks" (oh wait...there is a team called that isn't there ? But it is short for Bucaneers as I recall...is their a leauge of anti-pirate defamation somewhere)....

Since when did Native Americans decide that the words Indian or Brave were offensive?? Choosing such names was meant, at the time and now I dare say, to denote superior or vast skills. In other words, the intention was to adopt a name that could be respected, by opponents and supporters alike. No one names their own beloved team a derrogatory word knowing and intending that it be derrogatory!! All this PC stuff is just silly and a waste of time. Let's concentrate on real problems, not go looking for new stuff to be pissed about! There sure seem to be a lot of people who aren't happy unless they are hacked off about something....

5.1.06  
Anonymous El Borak said...

Fighting Irish...Vikings...Celtics... I'm offended.

Where do I sign up to get paid?

5.1.06  
Anonymous Illini Jim said...

Chief is not a mascot. He's a symbol. If you can't figure out the difference, maybe you shouldn't be judging anybody.

I've got to admit, I think the term Redskins should be done away with. But if someone thinks that Chief Illiniwek is a "hostile and abusive" image of American Indians, you're fuckin' nuts.

Read up on the history of Chief Illiniwek.

http://www.chiefilliniwek.org/

7.1.06  

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