Today’s blog represents my 1-year anniversary in bringing Thursday Morning Meditations to your computer screen. Some have been thought-provoking, some have simply been soap-box standings, others tasteful, tacky, naughty, or nice. Today’s is inspired by an article I read yesterday and one that, quite frankly, ruffles my feathers a bit.
In 2005, the NCAA set forth a ruling wherein colleges and universities with Native American (hereinafter called “Indian” with no biased, racist, or otherwise unsavory intent) mascots would be sanctioned each time the mascot appeared on behalf of the institution. Yesterday, Chief Illiniwek officially retired from the University of Illinois after 81 years of proudly representing the Fighting Illini.
But who else may be on the proverbial chopping block? Closer to home we have the Central Michigan Chippewas. Montezuma the Aztec from San Diego State. The Utah Utes. North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux. And one of the most sought-after college-licensed apparel today comes from Florida State University, infamous for the tomahawk chop, and the Seminoles, represented by Chief Osceola (and his horse, Renegade). This one probably isn’t going away anytime soon since the famous ‘Nole is in the top 5 selling college clothing, etc. But the others may not be so long-lived.
And why didn’t the causists also decry other, non-Indian human mascots offensive? The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame? The Orangemen of Syracuse? The Belles of Mississippi State? The countless Trojans, Cowboys, Pirates, or Spartans? The MIAA lends many: The Albion Britons, the Alma Scots, the Calvin Knights, the Hope Dutchmen. What about the Volunteers of Tennessee or the Mountaineers of West Virginia? The UNLV Rebels? Or even the Ragin’ Cajuns from Louisiana-Lafayette? Or my most recent alma mater, the Valparaiso Crusaders?
Why is it that maintaining an Indian mascot is so egregious? Apparently this is not a new cause. Groups have rallied (albeit a bit more quietly) for decades to remove Indians from mascotting. Most call it a racist move to maintain an Indian mascot.
But this is what bothers me. It’s not like they are being called “The Drunken Sioux” or “The Illiterate Chippewas.” No. In fact, they are being heralded for a major part of the history of our country in which they had an integral role, and also for a marked feature of the tribes they represent. Colleges didn’t pick peaceful tribes to represent them… and if they did, they didn’t add “Fighting” before Pueblo or Algonguin. They picked strong, united, tough tribes to stand behind.
Somewhere along the way, I was told that imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery. I believe there is some truth behind this. The mascot imitation (often displayed after training in the native art forms) is a celebration of a people and culture that would otherwise be pretty much wiped off the radar.
I learned what a wolverine, hoosier, boilermaker, hokey, terrapin, and nittany lion all were because of college sports. I saw these names when I was a kid and I asked. So what’s going to happen to our kids’ generation when they don’t see Chief Illiniwek and can’t ask “What’s an Illini?” Will these grand tribes become a forgotten group in our mainstream culture?
This is one of the causes that bothers me. But maybe I am short-sighted? Maybe because I am not an Indian, I just “don’t get it.” I don’t know. Regardless, I would consider it an honor to be a ‘Nole or an Illini. But thanks to the NCAA, a whole tribe of mascots may be up for replacement.
Anyone ready to rally around the Banana Slug?