Friday, January 18, 2008

Little Egypt is Farther South, People

...So if you insist on living in denial, you need to transfer to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and start rooting for the Salukis. Meanwhile, the rest of us can go on our merry way without some sods trying out to be the next Chief Illiniwek.

Yes, you read that right: Students for Chief Illiniwek and the so-called Council of Chiefs have announced tryouts for the next person (read: white male) to continue the worst thing to happen to race relations at the University of Illinois since its Ku Klux Klan chapter was founded. At least the KKK disbanded on campus - apparently we are not yet so lucky as to be free of our former racist mascot.

Honestly, though, I shouldn't be too surprised after listening to the drunken hordes at football games continuing to yell, "Chief!" during the three-in-one at halftime. The denial that the Chief is gone runs deeply, and nowhere does it run as deep as Students for Chief Illiniwek:

[President of Students for Chief Illiniwek] Schmitt said his plan is setting the stage for a Chief revitalization that might be years down the road.

"We don't want to do this in an official capacity right now," Schmitt said.

In the meantime, Schmitt said Students for Chief Illiniwek is content to humbly channel the enthusiastic spirit of student, alumni and fan support.

"Whoever the new Chief is might not dance on the floor of Assembly Hall," Schmitt added. "But students still realize that this is a huge honor not only to the community but to Fighting Illini legacy."
Beyond the overall denial, there's still a couple things that are plain wrong about this. First is that the University cannot bring back the Chief. This was the primary reason why the Board of Trustees hemmed and hawed for so long over their bullshit "consensus conclusion" - they knew that if and when they retired the Chief that the political costs to the University would be so high as to make that decision irreversible. Maintaining a racist mascot was a black eye to the University, but reinstating it would cause the University's national and global reputation to reek for years to come. Hardly anyone on that board wanted to be stuck with the local political misfortune of being the ones to retire the Chief on their own which, while I understand it, does not make it any less cowardly. The NCAA ruling lowered the political costs to the Board of Trustees as they could claim they were saving the Athletic programs from sanctions by the mean, mean people outside the university. (Although, they were really just saving the money sports - the others had already been screwed for a year as they were unable to host playoffs.) That the board felt the need to retire the Chief without much public warning speaks more about the character of those who support the Chief, from whom the board was trying to hide, than the Board itself.

Nevertheless, what I want to know is what the new guy is going to do. Is he just going to go to games in street clothes with his thumb up his butt? Or are the Chief supporters going to try to get the new guy to show up in costume (whatever remains of it now) to non-sporting events? (As if that wouldn't make the environment of this university even more hostile and abusive...) Unless Students for Chief Illiniwek start pulling stunts worthy of the Orange and Blue Observer, I honestly cannot fathom what the new Chief will do besides stand perpetually in the on-deck circle as the ballpark is being torn down around him.

Also, running as a companion story in the Daily Illini is their own coverage of the lawsuit over the Logo for the Chief. None of the details have changed since the News-Gazette ran its story nearly two weeks ago - and that the DI sat on this for so long makes me think that someone there knew about the new Chief selection long ahead of time. What really bothers me about this article, though, is the lack of new reporting by the Daily Illini. The first big issue is that the reporter did not get the University spokesperson on the record saying how the new merchandise will not violate the NCAA ruling. A journalist should never accept it when a public official handwaves away any important issue, and since habits learned early are hard to break, the instinct to ask the uncomfortable questions should be ingrained now. The second issue I have with this is that the Daily Illini has had weeks to prepare this story, and yet they do not have a single word from the NCAA on the matter. As I pointed out previously, one of the big things in the News-Gazette article was the lack of a response from the NCAA. The NCAA has the power to say that the University is no longer in compliance with its ruling on Native American mascots, and so a statement from them matters - yet there's not a single blurb about it in the DI writeup. What has this reporter been doing for the past couple weeks that he did not call the NCAA? Even the NCAA refusing to comment is important, as noting such only highlights the blatant hypocrisy of the situation. The bottom line is, until someone comes forward and explains how the University selling/licensing Chief merchandise does not violate the NCAA ruling, the whole thing is going to stink to people on both sides of the issue.

Oh, and the way, I did notice that the Chief people tried to bury this story on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a school holiday and three-day weekend for students. Way to be honest and forthright and all that.


rknil said...

I don't claim to know why the DI does the things it does now, but it does have student reporters, and they don't always make good, timely decisions.

The lack of an NCAA response is troublesome. You have to get comments from all sides.

The paper did that with another article, too -- one about the local health care advocacy group (which really seems to be picking up steam.) There was no comment from the hospitals. But since the "traditional" media (read: N-G) continue to allow the hospitals to blame patients for their problems, I guess this sort of evens things out.

The Squire said...

If I needed a word to put in quotes to describe the N-G and wanted to completely tick off the DI people, I'd opt for "real," but that's just me.