Retire 'the chief'.
University of Oregon officials have no lack of challenges to keep them busy these days - from inadequate state funding to skyrocketing tuition to siting a new basketball arena.
Given that packed agenda, they might have been tempted to downplay concerns about the UO men's basketball team's upcoming game against the University of Illinois, which uses the Chief Illiniwek mascot that offends many American Indians. To their credit, they didn't.
While UO officials declined to cancel an existing contract with Illinois that calls for Saturday's game in Illinois and a return game in Portland next December, they agreed to put in place a new policy on the scheduling of future games with schools that have offensive mascots.
It's a practical, significant response - one that enables the UO to meet existing contractual obligations, while establishing a long-term policy that recognizes that stereotypical and inaccurate representations have no place in modern university environments.
As Register-Guard reporter Jeff Wright noted in a Wednesday story, critics first voiced concerns about the Illinois games last spring. They cited a resolution, signed two years ago by 250 students and faculty, urging the UO to not allow its athletics teams to play nonconference foes with American Indian mascots that are not sanctioned by tribes.
At the time UO officials entered into the contract, it appeared that Illinois trustees, who had been petitioned for years by American Indian groups, were finally about to get rid of Illiniwek. However, the board eventually yielded to strong alumni support for the chief.
Some UO students and faculty members have called for cancellation of Saturday's game, saying such a move would send a powerful message. That's probably true, but it also would entail breaching a contract, and canceling a game that many fans plan to attend.
Of far greater importance - and longer-term consequence - is the UO's decision to craft a new policy that will deal with similar situations in the future. Such a policy should not only restrict the use of offensive mascots by visiting teams, but it should also bar the UO from scheduling away games with schools that use American Indian or other insulting mascots.
Meanwhile, it's baffling that the University of Illinois has taken so long to recognize the need to retire Illiniwek. While team nicknames and mascots often have strong sentimental support, most colleges already have discarded offensive mascots and nicknames. They include Stanford University, which replaced "Indians" with the "Cardinal" in 1972. In 1997, Miami University of Ohio changed from "Redskins" to "Redhawks." Hundreds of high schools have made similar changes.
Yet Illinois stubbornly refuses to give up the Illiniwek stereotype and symbol, arguing that the chief - often a white student who stands with his arms folded as a sign of "respect" - is a dignified image that honors the American Indians who originally inhabited Illinois.
That self-serving justification ignores the fact that many American Indians regard this symbol as a distorted cliche. The University of Illinois should find another symbol, one that better represents American Indians and the ideals of the university - and one that doesn't distract its fellow institutions from the urgent business of the day.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; UO responds appropriately to offensive mascot|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Dec 9, 2004|
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