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February 19, 2007

Go, Fighting Political Correctors! Go Home!


The University of Illinois just announced that it will be dropping Chief Illiniwek, its Native American mascot of more than 80 years, after a final performance this week. This move follows the NCAA’s 2005 decision to ban the so-called offensive use of Native American imagery, punishing schools that have such mascots by barring them from holding post-season events.


Until now, Chief Illiniwek, donning a costume made by an actual Sioux as well as intimidating war paint, would rile up the Illinois crowd at important athletic events. Students, alumni and others affiliated with the university cheered Chief Illiniwek – and loved him. They called themselves and their athletic players the Fighting Illini, and have long been proud of this tradition.


But for some odd reason, the politically correct crowd has a way of breaking into every social institution, however pleasant and agreeable to the public, and proceeding to systematically ruin said institution. We have seen this phenomenon occur everywhere from Christmas, to high schools, to museums and to sitcoms, to name a few. They have now moved on to collegiate sports, one of the nation’s most cherished institutions.


Apparently someone, somewhere, was utterly revolted with the fact that several schools use Native American mascots to symbolize their community. While it is certainly true that there are people who feel this way, they sure don’t even come close to being the majority. A 2002 Peter Harris Research Group poll of self-declared Native Americans demonstrated that more than four-fifths of them support the use of American Indian names in high school, college and professional sports. Yet as is always the case in political correctness campaigns, it is an outspoken and well-placed minority that hogs the microphone.


What’s so bad about using Chief Illiniwek, the Braves or the Indians as mascots anyway? How exactly is it an insult to invoke a Native American term to represent a team – nay, an entire university and its constituents? It is hard to believe that choosing such a term would be anything short of an honor. This is a name that countless people proudly adopt, wearing it on their hats, shirts, and yelling it out with delight. If the Fighting Illini didn’t think so highly of Chief Illiniwek, they wouldn’t be so proud of having him represent them to the world.


Let’s face it: Native American culture is going farther and farther out of sight. Whether it is because of marriage into other races, increased integration with American society or a variety of other reasons, Native American culture is hardly being appreciated on a mass scale. When many people think Native American, they think casinos, tax-free status, the bad guys in Westerns or even one of those little “race” boxes on applications that you can check to make it easier to get into prestigious colleges.


Of course, when more attention is given to the subject, you see a whole other picture. You learn about the fascinating culture of Native Americans, their incredible courage in battle, their perseverance in dreadfully difficult times, their diversity of tribes and so on. And the fact of the matter is, little in modern culture glorifies these Native American attributes as much as do the teams that adopt them. Sports teams are revered most when they play hard, play fair and refuse to surrender through the last minute. These are the qualities that athletic teams strive for, and the qualities that Native Americans are historically known for. There is just no reason to believe that the use of Native American symbols and mascots reveal anything other than attempt to emulate this culture of bravery.


I am a big Washington Redskins fan and our nemeses are the Dallas Cowboys. I spend two Sundays every season shouting for the Redskins to completely obliterate the Cowboys. This is a rare situation – after all, I usually root for the cowboys and against the Indians when I watch Westerns. Yet when I go to the game, I join my fellow fans in chanting “Hail to the Redskins, Hail Victory, Braves on the Warpath, Fight for Old DC!”


We are in no way demeaning Native Americans by joining in this chant. We are adopting them, we are becoming them. We are glorifying their culture of courage and their fighting spirit. This is certainly not an aspect of American Indian culture we would get at the roulette table. So to the Fighting Political Correctors, we say, Go! Go all the way home, that is. And to Chief Illiwinek, we exclaim, Hail to the Chief. You will not be forgotten.


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