Chief Among the Silliness
WASHINGTON -- The
University of Illinois must soon decide whether, and if so how,
to fight an exceedingly silly edict from the NCAA. That organization's
primary function is to require college athletics to be no more
crassly exploitative and commercial than is absolutely necessary.
But now the NCAA is going to police cultural sensitivity, as it
understands that. Hence the decision to declare Chief Illiniwek
``hostile and abusive'' to Native Americans.
Censorship -- e.g.,
campus speech codes -- often are academic liberalism's preferred
instrument of social improvement, and now the NCAA's censors say:
The Chief must go, as must the university's logo of a Native American
in feathered headdress. Otherwise the NCAA will not allow the
university to host any postseason tournaments or events.
This story of progress,
as progressives understand that, began during halftime of a football
game in 1926, when an undergraduate studying Indian culture performed
a dance dressed as a chief. Since then, a student has always served
as Chief Illiniwek, who has become the symbol of the university
that serves a state named after the Illini confederation of about
a half-dozen tribes that were virtually annihilated in the 1760s
by rival tribes.
In 1930, the student
then portraying Chief Illiniwek traveled to South Dakota to receive
authentic raiment from the Oglala Sioux. In 1967 and 1982, representatives
of the Sioux, who had not yet discovered that they were supposed
to feel abused, came to the Champaign-Urbana campus to augment
the outfits Chief Illiniwek wears at football and basketball games.
But grievance groups
have multiplied, seeking reparations for historic wrongs, and
regulations to assuage current injuries inflicted by ``insensitivity.''
One of America's booming businesses is the indignation industry
that manufactures the synthetic outrage needed to fuel identity
The NCAA is allowing
Florida State University and the University of Utah to continue
calling their teams Seminoles and Utes, respectively, because
those two tribes approve of the tradition. The Saginaw Chippewa
tribe starchily denounces any ``outside entity'' -- that would
be you, NCAA -- that would disrupt the tribe's ``rich relationship''
with Central Michigan University and its teams, the Chippewas.
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke can continue calling
its teams the Braves. Bravery is a virtue, so perhaps the 21 percent
of the school's students who are Native Americans consider the
name a compliment.
The University of
North Dakota Fighting Sioux may have to find another nickname
because the various Sioux tribes cannot agree about whether they
are insulted. But the only remnant of the Illini confederation,
the Peoria tribe, is now in Oklahoma. Under its chief, John Froman,
the tribe is too busy running a casino and golf course to care
about Chief Illiniwek. The NCAA ethicists probably reason that
the Chief must go because no portion of the Illini confederation
remains to defend him.
Or to be offended
by him, but never mind that, or this: In 1995, the Office of Civil
Rights in President Clinton's Education Department, a nest of
sensitivity-mongers, rejected the claim that the Chief and the
name Fighting Illini created for anyone a ``hostile environment''
Sports Illustrated published a 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
But in any case,
why should anyone's disapproval of a nickname doom it? 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? Civilization depends on, and civility often requires, the
willingness to say, ``What you are doing is none of my business''
and ``What I am doing is none of your business.''
But this is an age
when being an offended busybody is considered evidence of advanced
thinking and an exquisite sensibility. So, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals has demanded that the University of South
Carolina's teams not be called Gamecocks because cock fighting
is cruel. It also is illegal in South Carolina.
In 1972, the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst replaced the nickname Redmen with
Minutemen. White men carrying guns? If some advanced thinkers
are made miserable by this, will the NCAA's censors offer relief?
Scottsdale Community College in Arizona was wise to adopt the
nickname ``Fighting Artichokes.'' There is no grievance group
representing the lacerated feelings of artichokes. Yet.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group