UI deserves a new likeness of the Chief

Chief: There’s no denying that this word means something different to those who are, those who have been and even those who will be here at this University. It’s a word that evokes either ire at the lack of sensitivity to Native Americans or sentimentality for what the word continues to mean to many Illini fans.

Five years out from the University’s retirement of the former mascot, the Council of Chiefs, a body made up of former Chief Illiniweks, launched a new Chief on Friday. This new image, divorced from the University’s ownership of the round symbol, which is instantly recognizable as the former Illini mascot, was printed on 250 T-shirts and nearly sold out at Gameday Spirit.

Below the image on those shirts, sold this weekend, read the word “pride” — a meaning that is universal to alumni of universities the world over — but those who bought the initial batch may not have seen “pride” printed underneath the iconic war paint. Illini consumers more likely read “Chief.”

There’s no denying that the tradition is very much alive.

The University decided five years ago that its role in the evolution of the Chief was over, hoping that by halting the use of the Chief, the symbol would eventually fade out in history as part of our campus’ dark ages. Although the Chief’s time as the Illinois mascot is over, it’s naive to think that it would bring about the Chief’s ultimate end.

Gameday Spirit manager Cory Shumard put it best, saying, “I always hoped that I had enough orange and blue in my store that would cater to both opinions.” Shumard’s marketing plan is spot-on: Fans should have the choice to recognize the Chief if they so wish.

The Council of Chiefs presented this new image: three seemingly amorphous paint streaks, which would probably mean nothing to an Illini outsider, that contain the Chief’s profile on the left side. The new design hardly would evoke the image of a Native American chief, much less that of the Illini Confederation. But show this image to alumni — no matter their opinion on the icon — and they will hear “Chief” echoed in the low rumblings that roll through the Assembly Hall or Memorial Stadium as the second act of the Three-in-One plays.

So as the University chooses to open a new book of traditions — whether continuing to use the Block-I symbol or moving forward on another, more politically correct mascot — many Illini fans want to see the next chapter in the Chief’s book.

We think they deserve that opportunity.