Long Live The Chief! (No Offense)

Imagine a fine autumn day on the great plains of Illinois. The sun smiles down through the azure dome of the Midwestern sky upon 75,000 fans crowded into the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium. A sea of orange and blue shimmers in the stands and the roar "I-L-L!...I-N-I! echoes over the field while pennants swirl and snap in the breeze above the crowd.

It’s halftime during another glorious Big Ten football Saturday in Urbana-Champaign and a celebrated ritual dating back to 1926 begins again. The Marching Illini band parts with military precision, clearing a path for a lone figure who emerges and struts proudly to the center of the field. He is barefoot, clad in buckskin and leather tassels, his face painted bright orange and blue, and his head is topped by an impressive mien of eagle feathers.

Chief Illiniwek bows to the throng of admirers then he dances to Native American music. He skims across the field as he twists and turns. He suddenly leaps in the air, touches his toes in an aerial split and then lands feet together on the turf. He stands, arms folded in front of him in an ancient pose, as the band belts out the Illinois Fight song "Oske-wow-wow." There is no mocking here. No disrespect for the Native Americans whose namesake we at the U of I adopted as our own.

But that scene is just a fading memory now for the Chief is no more. In fact this college football season marks the sixth year of his banishment from our campus by the NCAA for being a mascot “hostile and abusive” to Native American sensibilities. (Although his last official performance would not take place until February 2007 at a home basketball game).

How did this come to pass?



Apparently those who took it upon themselves to speak for an Indian nation long vanished found Chief Illinwek's very existence so traumatizing, so insulting, that they forced the NCAA to coerce my alma mater into killing this 81-year tradition or be banned from hosting any post-season activities. So the political correctness tsunami washed over my school, sweeping away a most cherished tradition when it receded.

Forget that the tribes of the Illini Confederacy were wiped out or displaced by the end of eighteenth century by more powerful Native American enemies. Forget even that the closest living descendents of the confederacy, the Peoria, who were relocated to Oklahoma in the 19th century apparently never had an issue with the Chief for over seven decades. In 1995, Don Giles, then Chief of the Peoria Tribe, said, "We're proud that the University of Illinois...is drawing on that background of our having been there. And what more honor could they pay us?" But in 2000 the tribe’s position curiously changed after the new chief, Ron Froman, met with several Native American student groups at the U of I. Were any of these students descended from the Illini Confederacy? Not to my knowledge. One’s direct standing on an issue matters little when there’s a p.c. crusade afoot.

Froman apparently just needed to be told that he was offended, and even offered this historically dubious viewpoint: “ I don't think [the Chief’s creation] was to honor us, because, hell, they ran our (butts) out of Illinois." That his tribe was almost wiped out well before the white men “ran their butts out of the state” matters little when there’s a chance to manufacture synthetic outrage to help the indignation industry churn out its favorite product: identity politics.

Fortunately for the students of Florida State University, their Indian symbol, Chief Osceola, was allowed to live by the NCAA. Why? Because (get this now) the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who are still alive and well, found nothing offensive about him! Who could have imagined that? Apparently a lot of Indians could that’s who! According to a 2002 Sports Illustrated poll of 351 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 as George Will (a fellow Illini) wrote about the same subject before the ban: “...
When, in the multiplication of entitlements, did we produce an entitlement for everyone to go through life without being annoyed by anything, even a team's nickname? If some Irish or Scots were to take offense at Notre Dame's Fighting Irish or the Fighting Scots of Monmouth College, what rule of morality would require the rest of us to care?”

But so goes our world. We live in a time in which entire populations have united behind the pledge to our nation's destruction, indeed our way of life. This is a moment when we as a country need to raise a generation of tough hombres to face challenges to our very survival unimagined in times before commoditized mass-murder. Instead we are raising cream puffs. Cry babies. Perez Hilton clones for whom almost anything that even hints of irreverence must be squashed. And worse, we are unleashing a wave of children who are taught to tread lightly and leave no offending footprints should someone, somewhere, with time on their hands and an activist pro bono lawyer at their side, come a-calling. How can this but stifle healthy debate—the life-blood of a free people.

I may be labeled as racist for even expressing in an open forum these sentiments, but I’ll just call you an anti-German/Irish bigot and be on my way. Oh, and perhaps I’ll petition to ban any future the airing of “The Godfather” for using the offensive term “Kraut-Mick.” Too bad if it’s your favorite movie. I have feelings to consider.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this p.c. wave. But I don't think so. I see it as the demise of this nation should this dialogue-crippling and balkanizing movement continue. Six years ago it targeted a venerated tradition at an island of learning in a sea of corn and soybeans that was doing no harm to anyone—save those who seek to re-create this country in their own narrow and paradoxically intolerant image.

LONG LIVE THE CHIEF! No offense.

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