True tradition

My grandfather and father took me to my first Illinois football game when I was 10 or 11, and seeing the Chief’s performance is the most vivid recollection I have of that day. The loud crowd suddenly got quiet and stood as the band started playing. My spine was tingling as the Chief appeared, did his routine and quietly disappeared again. It just seemed so surprisingly respectful and reverent, not something I was expecting at a football game. Since then, as a student and alumnus, I have experienced the Chief’s performance countless times and always looked forward to a chance to expose someone else to the performance. Every time, I was asked how anyone could find bigotry or offensiveness in his performance and I was always left without an answer.

Further, I wonder who actually wins with this ruling. The Native American groups that have pushed for the Chief’s retirement now find their culture and name pushed even farther out of everyone else’s consciousness. While the dance and attire worn by the Chief may not have been completely authentic, the spirit and message of the Chief was one of respect for the past and for the almost-lost culture from which our state gets its name. My first experience of the Chief led me to choose to write my grade-school research paper on the Illiniwek tribe. Without that exposure, I certainly would not have considered it. I would never claim to tell someone what they should or should not be offended by, but I wonder how many students and fans will ever consider the meaning and nobility of the namesake of the Fighting Illini in the future. Most of all, I am saddened that I will not be able to give my children the same experience I had.

T. Andrew Coyle

University alumnus ’03