Giving up the fight

By John Ring


When word filtered down that the University of Illinois caved in to demands made by the NCAA and officially got rid of that offensive, prejudiced Chief  Illiniwek, I wasnÕt surprised. I was just angry.

First, a disclaimer. IÕve never attended the University of Illinois, am not an alumni and have no vested interest in the Fighting Illini. IÕd love to see them be more competitive in football and theyÕre on the right track in basketball.

But when I attended sporting events at Illinois and the Chief would make his halftime dance, you couldnÕt help but be pumped up. It was tradition. The crowd loved it. It was pure Fighting Illini.

IÕve interviewed two Chief  Illiniweks during my tenure as a sports editor here at The Zephyr. I would match either of those two guys in terms of knowledge, respect and pride of Native American history to any pointy-headed intellectual, Native American activist or do-gooder at the NCAA.

TheyÕre not just some Frat Boys dancing crazily between drunken parties. They took their role as Chief Illiniwek seriously and performed with dignity. They were, and still are, a part of the Fighting Illini sports program.

The two Chiefs I spoke to explained to me how every different action in the dance, everything they wore and every body movement they made were painfully researched and studied. To them— and to thousands of Illini Alumni— this was about honor and tradition, not race-bating or taunting.

The University capitulated due to a threat from the NCAA that Illinois would not host Regional events in the so-called ÒminorÓ sports, thus putting them at a competitive disadvantage. To be perfectly candid, a lot of Illinois alumni would gladly sacrifice that privilege to keep the Chief in uniform. If you donÕt believe me, ask them.

The NCAA is magnanimously letting Illinois keep the ÒFighting IlliniÓ as their nickname— for now. Give them another 10-15 years. ThatÕs next on the list.

This is a lot of hypocrisy anyway. The Florida State  Seminoles keep their nickname and mascot by paying Seminole Native Americans a million dollars a year. The Seminole tribe wants the money so the nickname is kept. There are no more Fighting Illini Native Americans to pay off.

Many— including several in the sports media—  advocated just giving up. That this was a losing cause. Dump the Chief, get it behind you and move on. You canÕt fight the NCAA. More threats from them will be made. Make peace and go forward.

Sorry. IÕm not that way.

Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your tradition. Fight until you get knocked down and then get up and fight some more.

ThereÕs no fight left with the University of Illinois.

Maybe they shouldnÕt be called the Fighting Illini after all.