The NCAA had some good news and some bad news for the University of Illinois today. The good news is that the university will be allowed to use its existing nicknames, “Illini” and “Fighting Illini,” which were deemed to be connected to the name of the state and thereby, not offensive. The bad news is that Chief Illiniwek, the mascot, must go. The penalty for keeping the big chief will be a prohibition on playing in post-season tournaments.
The Turkey had previously written about this issue in an article a few weeks ago. In it, I defended the University for its use of of the Fighting Illini moniker, but I neglected to comment on the mascot. The NCAA claims that Chief Illiniwek is an offensive icon. I think they’re all wet.
The NCAA’s decision on American Indian mascots, issued Aug. 5, bars universities on its list of schools deemed to use hostile imagery from hosting postseason championship events. It requires those schools to remove any offensive nickname or logo from team, cheerleader and band uniforms when participating in postseason tournaments.
“The NCAA staff review committee found no new information relative to the mascot known as Chief Illiniwek or the logo mark used by some athletics teams that depicts a Native American in feathered headdress, to remove the university from the list,” said Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s senior vice president for governance and membership.
This Turkey views this as silliness. After all, I could get upset about the Virginia Tech mascot, being a caricature of a turkey, but I don’t. I don’t see the NCAA coming to the defense of my turkey sensitivities anytime soon. As mascots go, though, the Hokie is a relative youngster, being around only since 1961. Chief Illiniwek was adopted as the icon for University of Illinois athletics in 1926, making him a senior citizen among mascots. It will be a crying shame if the University allows 80 years of tradition to be excised by the too big for their britches NCAA.
I was talking with my friend’s dog yesterday. I asked Cosmo what he thought of the University of Georgia, Yale, Mississippi State and others using the bulldog as a mascot. I didn’t get into the University of Washington Huskies, the Southern Illinois University Salukis, or the University of Altoona Dachshunds. Hey, dogs have feelings, too, and I really, really want to end this abuse. Alas, Cosmo just gave me a dumb look.
No one would object to the icon of a barbarian swinging a mace. In fact, a current series of TV commercials for a credit card company features comical characterizations of marauding, pillaging barbarians. Thus far, the Barbarian Defense League has issued nary a peep. So, why do we object to the image of an Indian in feathered headdress doing a war dance? Because Chief Illiniwek has descendants who are in denial about the chief’s history? Does the barbarian not have descendents, too? Oh, they’re white-skinned Europeans? So, it’s OK to make fun of them. How about the Fighting Irish, my favorite counterexample. The drunken fighting Irishman has to rank high on the list of offensive stereotypes. Yet the NCAA does nothing. The Irish are also white-skinned Europeans, so no apologies are necessary.
More importantly, in the broader sense, are we going to continue to allow public and private institutions exert their control by extorting us to revise and sanitize history? Clamping down on freedom of expression in educational institutions is particularly scary. If an athletic rules-making body can pass judgment on what they deem to be politically incorrect mascots, we’re giving them far too much authority.
It will be interesting to see whether any of the universities on the NCAA’s political incorrectness list have the balls to stand up for their mascots. My feeling is that the universities and the NCAA will not be smoking the peace pipe anytime soon.