Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Close to Home

On yesterday's ATC Robert Siegel had a "cheery" story about the use of Indian names and mascots for colleges and universities. McMurray University of Abeliene, Texas faced sanctions from the NCAA, lost an appeal to keep the name "Indians," and so decided to opt for no nickname at all. Siegel described McMurray as "not so lucky" compared to schools like Florida State University who won their appeals. He also smartly informs us that "the Indian spirit is alive and well on campus."

This story hits close to home. Back in the early 90s I took my sons to a women’s basketball game at our local Univeristy (UIUC) and was aghast at the halftime show put on by "Chief Illiniwek" the University's mascot. What I saw was a young barefooted white guy dressed up in mock-chief regalia and war paint who pranced, high-stepped, strutted, and gestured across the basketball court. Then he stopped for a somber "prayerful" pose as the Alma Mater was sung. It was utterly shameless and embarassing.

The "Chief Illiniwek" controversy reveals some deep and distrurbing truths that Siegel’s news-lite doesn’t even approach. He could have called American Indian Charlene Teters to talk about her experience of witnessing the "Chief’s" dance with her children, of organizing to have the "Chief" dropped, and of dealing with hateful reactions of white fans. He might have talked to the Peoria Indians of Oklahoma. He might have talked to the NCAA about why they think Indian mascots create a "hostile" environment (we’ve had evidence of this here lately).

Siegel, broadcasting from the home city of the "Redskins," could have sought out informed commentary on the issue, but instead he opted for the lighthearted and mocking tone that belittles those who find racist mascots troubling.

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