NCAA won't hail the Chief


The NCAA has officially banned Chief Illiniwek (and all other Native American mascots) from performing in post—season games. Richard Baehr examined the issue with insight and humor during the NCAA Big Ten Tournament, when the Chief was unofficially banned.

Richard wrote:

At the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at the United Center in Chicago this week, ten of the eleven teams were allowed to bring their mascot. The outcast was the University of Illinois, the number one seed, the tournament winner and the number one—ranked team in the nation. Their mascot, Chief Illiniwek, was not permitted to appear.  The student who becomes the Chief at home games at Assembly Hall, this year an electrical engineering major named Kyle Cline, could only watch the tournament games from the stands in normal U of I civilian clothing (orange hair, shirt, pants, and socks).

The Chief has become a politically incorrect symbol for the Fighting Illini, and many want him to go the way of the now departed Indian mascots for the Marquette Warriors (now Golden Eagles), the St. Johns' Redmen (now Red Storm), and the Miami of Ohio Redskins (now Red Hawks).  The fight to have the University walk away from the Chief, is an example of ethnic tribalism infecting American sports. Illinois' Chief is the symbol of a tribe, but what its critics miss is that it is not an ethnic tribe, but one much broader. We have here a clash between a sports tribe and ethnic tribalism. 


The denigrators of Chief Illiniwek do not understand the power of allegiance and loyalty.  They are not interested in anything that might build ties beyond the politically—designated group, or race, or gender, or sexual preference category. The Chief does not demean Indians. The critics who claim so, know little or nothing of the tradition surrounding the mascot. The Chief officially stands for 'spirit, courage, strength, bravery, honor and loyalty.' I know this for I have a Chief tee shirt I wore at the United Center this weekend which surrounds the chief's dignified head with these words, noble qualities all of them.

The critics know only that a student dresses up as an Indian and if 2,000 high schools, and colleges have dropped Indian nicknames the past few decades, then Illinois must be a throwback to preserve this insensitive assault on native Americans. The Chicago Tribune ran an article last week on the Chief controversy in which a leading advocate to get rid of Chief Illiniwek, (an American Indian woman),  spoke of how the Chief eroded the self esteem of her teenage children when she lived in Champaign. I daresay self esteem erosion may not be the only real problem here.

The Fighting Illini fans should not have to apologize for their traditions. This is not Southeast Oklahoma State (the Savages), or Carthage College (the Redmen). Chief Illiniwek does not degrade American Indians.  The Illinois mascot and team name fits more with the Central Michigan Chippewas, the University of Alaska, Fairbanks Nanooks,  the San Diego State Aztecs,  the North Adams State Mohawks, and by far the best known, the Florida State Seminoles. There is history, and a sense of place as well as tradition in these names.

Of course, the Indians have had a pretty bum deal throughout American history. I do not need Howard Zinn or Ward Churchill to tell me that. And the casinos do not mean we are all even on settling scores. But anybody who tells you that it was all kumbayah amongst the peace—loving tribes, back before Columbus made his voyages, or before the white man began to settle the interior, is romanticizing history. Braves (Alcorn State), Red Raiders (Texas Tech), Warriors (Keuka College), Redmen, Fighting Sioux (University of North Dakota) speak to a history of warfare on the continent. And it was not all one—way.  There was some serious scalping done in the Illinois territory well before anybody tried it outside the stadiums and arenas in Champaign or Chicago

There are many thousands of sports teams with animal names.  Will PETA be next to step into this arena?  Maybe Fighting Tigers or War Eagles is disrespectful, and feeds the abuse of animals that is so present in our society.  What about the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame? Aren't we trying to make peace in Northern Ireland—region>?  Why aren't Notre Dame professors and the IRA seeking to get rid of that name? Isn't it as 'demeaning' as Fighting Illini?   Americans for Peace Now might object, but Dennis Prager says he would be proud if a team were called the Fighting Jews.  Some ancient stereotypes might go out the window with that one. 

I think the attack on Indian mascots and team names is indicative of people with too much free time (a group which includes most academics), and too easily obsessed with societal sleights. 

Thomas Lifson   8 05 05