Column: Menial concerns

By John Bambenek

With the recent ruling of the NCAA on the Chief issue, I sat down to write this column realizing, I really don’t care that much. I’ve been around this town for more or less ten years now. I’ve heard every argument. I’m not so much pro-Chief as I am anti-anti-Chief. The behavior of those protesters in most cases borders on absurd.

The NCAA rightly ruled that the Illini name is fine to use. The protesters have a problem with this. However, if you take their position to its logical end, the University would not only need to change the name of the team, but the name of the school. Illinois and Illini refer to the same thing. How can one be offensive and the other not? No one is lobbying the state to change its name. As for not using the Chief or having Chief logos during tournaments, we are already largely in compliance, and the NCAA ruling does little more than provide consolation to the anti-Chief crowd.

When they say the board hasn’t resolved this issue, it isn’t that they haven’t made a decision. They have. Almost every Board meeting is full of hashing and rehashing the Chief issue. Nothing new is left to say. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Civil Rights performed an investigation on the issue and decided that there was no substantial evidence to conclude that the Chief is creating a racially hostile environment. When the protesters say the issue hasn’t been dealt with, they are really saying the University hasn’t capitulated to their malformed reasonings.

The anti-Chief crowd has brought up unsubstantiated instances of abuse to try to support their claim that the Chief creates a hostile learning environment. The irony is that some of these same protesters created a hostile learning environment with the violent occupation of a campus building last year. When dozens of people show up to a building and say they are taking over, that intimidation is violent. I’d like to know when the University is going to deal with their failure to protect the campus.

Despite the several lawsuits and complaints to various human rights agencies, not one has resulted in an anti-Chief victory. All their complaints have been found meritless and unfounded. Sure, some people have wrongly fired back profanities and other slurs at protesters. However, with the history of some of these organizations and their typical pattern of harassment and personal attacks, it’s hard to swallow them as victims.

American Indians never had one religion or one set of customs. Only racist or ignorant white men lump all the Indians together as if they are all cookie cutter copies. That is why the argument that the dance offends their religion is absurd on its face. American Indian tribes each tended to have their own religious practices. Since the Chief is designed to commemorate the Illini, it is only the ancestors of that tribe that have a say in that issue.

No one would take an Italian’s complaints against the Fighting Irish, or a Methodist’s complaint against portrayals of Baptists seriously. Likewise, no one should take seriously the complaints of the Cherokee on the authenticity of a portrayal of the Illini. To be fair, the Peoria tribe, after supporting the Chief in 1995, has voted that it should be retired. However, in a recent interview, the current Chief of the Peoria tribe said the tribe is worried about other more important things than the Chief.

In the end, this is a discussion that belongs between the Peoria tribe and the Board of Trustees. The portrayal of this debate on the anti-Chief side as if it was the fight against slavery anew smacks more of a reliving the protest culture of the ’70s than a serious analysis of the issue. This simply is not the penultimate issue on campus that it has been made out to be. The Peoria tribe and Board need to figure it out; everyone else needs to butt out. We need to move on to the latest of menial concerns facing the University – Like the merger of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics.

John Bambenek is a University employee and a graduate student. His column appears every Friday. He can be reached at [email protected]