Students are livid. Alumni are furious. Fans are so angry they are peppering websites with angry messages. The University should be ashamed for bowing to pressure from the NCAA, they write.
Now, people all over Illinois are stunned and deflated as they prepare to say good-bye to the Chief, the school’s American Indian mascot for the past 81 years.
No longer will fans get to see a University of Illini student make a mockery of Native American culture. No longer will students get to see a 20-something white male jump around as if he had ants in his pants. No longer will people in the arena get to see the most ridiculous and insensitive portrayal of an ethnic group anywhere. Thank God.
The Chief is relatively new to me. I grew up in Florida where we have our own version of the Chief. But that’s where the comparison ends. Before football games, Chief Osceola and his horse, Renegade, ride out to the center of the field and throw a spear into the middle of the field. Afterward, this chief pretty much sits on his horse, riding up and down the sidelines a few times. Chief Osceola does not do a mocking dance, nor chant nonsensically.
Unlike at U of I, Florida State has the support of the local Indian tribe. The Seminole Tribe officially sanctions Chief Osceola and the use of its name. Plus, the Seminole Tribe seeks the connection to the university. It’s am “honor” to be associated, says Max Osceola, the chief and general council president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Of course, the university pays the tribe for the use of that mascot. Still, there is a difference between the two chiefs. The chief at Florida State is quieter and treated with respect. At the U of I, the chief is a spazz who mocks Native Americans. What in the world does that dance have to do with anything that Illini, or any other Indians, find spiritual and sacred? Isn’t a university supposed to stand for reason and knowledge? Illinois is one of the finest research institutions in the country, yet it is remembered more and more for the Chief’s dance. The decision is a no-brainer for such a revered educational institution.
How about we use Sambo as a mascot and have him do a black-faced dance a la Bojangles? The Chief’s dance is just as absurd. What’s just as sad are the comments on message boards and in interviews cited on TV and in newspapers. Many fans and alumni are attacking the university and the NCAA for forcing the end of the chief’s escapades.
Fans invoke such weighty words as honor and loyalty and tradition, but they fail to mention that the chief ridicules these very same words for Native Americans everywhere. [By the way, how in the hell does the NFL allow such a mean-spirited word as Redskins to remain as a team nickname?]
“The chief is an honored symbol,” writes one fan. “I am ashamed of the University of Illinois. The Chief is much more than a ‘mascot.’ He is a respected and honored tradition who has spanned generations.”
Another writes: “I love the Chief and the honor, loyalty, and tradition that he stands for. … The University has now lowered itself to the level of all other universities in the nation by giving up a proud heritage.”
Buying and wearing more Illiniwek merchandise will show those forcing this change, writes another fan who is “ashamed” of his university. Fortunately, the spirit of Chief will transcend time, don’t ya know: “The legacy, spirit, and tradition of Chief Illiniwek will go on through all of us who have held him in such high regard for so many years, and he will forever be the honored symbol of the University of Illinois no matter what.”
One fan says we should stop looking for ways to be offended by free expressions like Chief Illinwek’s dance. Here’s the twisted logic: “We can choose to be offended or we can ignore the words or actions that offend us.” That’s easy to say if you do not face such discrimination on a daily basis.
So today while reporters and columnists continue to feed on this frenzy, and fans mourn, and students drink, and the board of trustees that voted to end the Chief’s affiliation stays at home, I will sit down in front of the TV and switch off the Illinois-Michigan game and turn on “The Sopranos.” At least, I know the portrayal of Italian-Americans in this show purposely mocks stereotypes for entertainment purposes. There’s no pretense that the loyalty, honor and tradition in this show are legitimate. Besides, this show is a helluva lot more entertaining.