Wednesday night's game between Illinois and Michigan at Assembly Hall in Champaign will be emotional for some. Halftime will be the last time that Chief Illiniwek will dance as the the Fighting Illini's official mascot.
Dan Mahoney, who portrays Chief Illiniwek, believes "[Tonight] is going to be very tough for a lot of people." Ahhh, but those people should keep their eyes on the bright side -- at last, Illinois will move into the 21st century!
If Mahoney only knew how wonderful things are in the present. Does he know that in the 21st century, people are able to connect to the Internet without having to plug cords into their computers? Shoot, pretty soon cars might even pop up on campus that use gas and electricity and get about 60 miles to the gallon! And wait until he and his fellow Illini find out about this HDTV thing. They'll be able to read the players' tattoos without getting courtside seats!
But wow, it's a good thing no one will see Chief Illiniwek in HD after Wednesday. I'd imagine that crystal clarity would make it obvious what Chief Illiniwek often was -- a white kid dressed in feathers and using a stereotype of Native Americans in the name of entertainment.
Save the arguments that Illiniwek was intended to honor the state of Illinois' Native American heritage for someone dumb enough to believe them. As Ron Froman, the former chief of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma (the closest living descendents of the Illiniwek Confederacy), said, "I don't think [Chief Illiniwek] was intended to support us, because, they ran [us] out of Illinois."
Finally, Chief Illiniwek has been run out of the Univeristy of Illinois. Welcome to the present.
I've printed the whole thing because it's on Page 2's main intro for today, and since that gets updated every afternoon I don't think there's any sort of permalink. It's nice, of course, to see a shorter-format essay, not so nice to see the contents.
1. "Moving into the 21st century." It's a favorite theme to quote calendars in support of the truth, and to say that one's opponents are stuck in the past. Sometimes, it even makes sense. In this case, I'm not certain, since the scorn comes fast and heavy - hi-def TVs! Wireless internet! As if technology somehow changes what is or is not true. Look, if Illiniwek is insulting, he's insulting - and would be whether or not we still all rode horses and sent telegrams.
2. "I'd imagine that crystal clarity would make it obvious what Chief Illiniwek often was -- a white kid dressed in feathers and using a stereotype of Native Americans in the name of entertainment." It's true that the kid in the outfit was usually not Native American. And I seem to remember that the leprechaun mascot of the Fighting Irish was once black without the whole Emerald Isle marching on South Bend in their umbrage. The race of a person is wholly unimportant. It does not matter that Illiniwek was often performed by a non-Indian. Think about it this way - this white kid was proud to represent a Native American image - he felt a connection to the ideals that Illiniwek was created to represent. He had risen above ethnic ties to embrace a common humanity. And the feathers and the dancing were researched thoroughly, so whatever else one may think, this wasn't merely a caricature or stereotype, but as authentic as could be discovered.
3. "Save the arguments that Illiniwek was intended to honor the state of Illinois' Native American heritage for someone dumb enough to believe them." Mr. Jones, meet the people dumb enough to believe them - the people who helped create Chief Illiniwek 81 years ago. That actual tribes were driven from the state is true and regrettable - would we prefer to forget they ever existed on top of that? Would we prefer to know nothing of them and their philosophy of integrity, as represented by the name Illiniwek? "They spoke a dialect of the Algonquin language and used the term 'Illiniwek' to refer to the complete human being -- the strong, agile human body; the unfettered human intellect; the indomitable human spirit."
4. "Welcome to the present." Unfortunately, the present often sucks. Consider the pay-for-grades, booster kickbacks, thug culture, and general arrogance and entitlement rampant throughout many of the NCAA's flagship programs. I mean, Lamar Thomas cheered on the UM-FIU football brawl from the broadcast booth - ON THE AIR. (There was a reason for all those "Catholics vs. Convicts" t-shirts they used to sell.) There's the wonderfully tactful remark Steve Spurrier made while head coach of Florida, regarding Tennessee's inability to beat the Gators: "You can't spell Citrus without U-T." Great example, there, ballcoach. I see that example followed all the time - teenaged roller hockey players acting like they're immortal talents (and immortal jackasses) after scoring goals in rec league games, for crying out loud. Chief Illiniwek sets a far better example and represents a far greater ideal than most of the NCAA can boast, and instead of a reflexive condemnation based on mere appearances - "He wears feathers! It's a Native American! Hostile!" - we should take the time to do a little reading and consider that there could be something positive to be learned.
Now, the moment that you point this out, someone will hurry to talk about how the good old days weren't really a golden age, and that there's good and bad in every time. True - and another argument against using the calendar to approve or disapprove of someone's behavior.