According to The New York Times, the University of Illinois is retiring its American-Indian mascot, “Chief Illiniwek.” The 81-year-old mascot will appear one last time, at the men’s last home basketball game tomorrow.
In 2005, the NCAA deemed Chief Illiniwek offensive and refused to allow the university to host post-season events.
“This is an extremely emotional day for people on both sides of the issue,” Ron Guenther, the university’s athletic director, told the Times. “But the decision announced today ends a two-decade-long struggle surrounding Chief Illiniwek on this campus. Personally, as an alumnus and former athlete, I am disappointed. However, as an administrator, I understand the decision had to be made.”
The decision to retire the mascot came after the Champaign County Circuit Court rejected a case from the two students who portray Chief Illiniwek. According to the Post Chronicle, Dan Maloney and Logan Ponce filed the suit saying that the NCAA ruling condemning the mascot was a violation of constitutional rights of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the ban against Illinois hosting post-season games will be lifted after the removal of the mascot Wednesday. Both the men’s tennis team and the women’s soccer team had to play outside of Champaign last season.
This decision will not affect the University of North Dakota’s current legal case against the NCAA, the Associated Press reported. University of North Dakota is currently in court to retain use of its “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo, also deemed offensive by the NCAA. They are suing because the NCAA barred the school from displaying the logo at post-season games.
In Feb. of 2005, the NCAA announced that 18 schools with Native American “imagery or references” were subject to penalty. At that point, the College had been given an extension to continue an investigation of the Tribe logo. Schools that didn’t comply could be no longer allowed to host national tournaments. They were ordered to no longer bring mascots, cheerleaders or any other “paraphernalia” to NCAA championships and athletes could not wear uniforms with the logo.
Some schools, including Florida State University, have managed to avoid the ban. FSU was allowed to keep their mascot, the Seminoles, after an Aug. 2005 ruling from the NCAA. The decision was made on the grounds that the Seminole tribe of Florida sided with the school.
Last October, College President Gene Nichol announced that the College would not challenge the NCAA ruling on the Tribe feathers. In an e-mail to students, Nichol said that the College would “phase out” the logo by fall 2007.
Nichol said that he would not pursue a challenge to the NCAA ruling because he did not want College athletes to be banned from post-season competition. In addition, he told students that a legal battle would be very costly to the College. He made his decision along with the Board of Visitors.
Sam Sadler, Vice President of Student Affairs, has been selected to head a committee that will choose a logo to replace the feathers. Sadler says that as of now, there is nothing to report involving the new mascot.