King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Three cheers for Illinois not bringing its outdated, racist mascot to the Final Four. Plus: Barry Bonds, crooked refs and slacking at Tournament time. The readers write.

By Salon Staff
Published March 30, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Chief Illiniwek, the native American "symbol" of the University of Illinois, won't be attending the Final Four. Let's hear a cheer for that.

The university was sued earlier this month by the Illinois Native American Bar Association and two individuals in an attempt to have the mascot banned for violating the Illinois Civil Rights Act, though he'd been grounded before that. The university says the chief only appears at home football games, though he does accompany the team to St. Louis when Illinois plays Missouri.

Gee, I wonder why he doesn't travel. Could it be that the university -- whose board of trustees has been hemming and hawing on this issue for years -- understands that the days when such insulting mascots were acceptable have long passed?

The chief is not a mascot, the university says. He's the official "symbol" of the university, one that honors the native American culture of the school's region.

That's some symbol they got there in Champaign-Urbana. They're afraid to let it out of its box. How's the alma mater go? "We proudly hide your banner/Our Alma Mater dear/We're embarrassed as we whisper your name/Whene'er others can hear!"

If the chief honors Indian culture, or anything else, why does the university keep him under wraps?

Supporters of the chief like to point to the fact that students overwhelmingly support his continued existence. A referendum last year found 70 percent of students supporting the chief, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Listen: There is no more reactionary force on earth than a student body when it comes to the traditions of its school.

If somebody had decided in the '30s that the school mascot would be a jack-booted, marching Nazi storm trooper, a majority of students would fight any attempt to get rid of him even today. They'd come up with some kind of convoluted logic to explain how the storm trooper doesn't really represent Nazism, the same way people make tortured arguments to explain how the Confederate flag doesn't represent racism and slavery.

Supporters also sometimes argue that surveys of native Americans show the majority are fine with Indian mascots and team names, and arguments like mine are nothing more than paternalism.

That's one way to look at it. Here's another: Even if it's true that a majority are OK with Indian mascots, there's a significant minority deeply insulted by them. They deserve protection from the tyranny, or apathy, of the majority. If reasonable people are insulted, it's wrong.

I've seen Chief Illiniwek's act in person several times. It never fails to put a knot in my stomach to watch a white kid bouncing around, imitating an Indian dance. Imagine a school having a Little Black Sambo for a mascot, or a dancing Hasidic Jew. He'd be counting money as he danced, of course. Or controlling the media. He could have a remote control. Hey, this is fun.

This is one of those arguments that's marching inexorably toward its end. Time is running out on mascots like Chief Illiniwek. The NCAA has asked Illinois and 30 other member schools to submit results of a "self-study" about their native American nicknames and mascots.

The schools are supposed to talk to students, area residents and leaders from neighboring Indian tribes and turn in their report by May 1. The NCAA will then move the results up a chain of subcommittees and says it will make some kind of decision by midsummer.

I doubt the NCAA will issue a ban, but the day is coming when insulting mascots like Chief Illiniwek are extinct. That day can't come fast enough.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

The readers write [PERMALINK]

There haven't been any issues in the last two weeks that have made the old in box explode, but letters on a variety of subjects have been pouring in. Here are some highlights.

NCAA Tournament slacking

Joel Caris: Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the study, but from how you characterized it, it sounds like Challenger, Gray & Christmas is suggesting that every fan of the Tournament has himself a job that involves sitting at an Internet-connected computer.

Excuse me? Perhaps no one has heard of the service industry, but those of us who work those crappy jobs most definitely don't have the luxury of sitting in front of a computer, let alone one that has Internet access. And, perhaps they didn't notice, but there are a couple of people in this country that work such jobs.

Perhaps they should do a study on consulting firms to see how much worker productivity they are losing on the creation of stupid and obviously false studies.

Bonds blames the media

George W. Schmidt: I do not want to sound too cynical, but is it possible the surgical recovery is a ruse to allow whatever substances he has been on to clear his system?

Al Mascitti: Yes, Barry has chosen the new last refuge of the scoundrel -- it replaced addiction, by the way -- but it isn't blaming the press. It's using your children as props in an attempt to blunt tough questions and gain sympathy. This guy makes Pete Rose look like an upstanding guy willing to confront his shortcomings, doesn't he?

Scott Nicolson: Of course, nobody is out to get him, he's completely so not over himself. Nobody is waiting to trowel three columns of whatever dirty crap floats to the top. Grand jury testimony sealed? Not a problem in California, land of the inside scoop:

Tell me how real estate and broken extramarital relationships are relevant to the steroid inquiry and I'll just be over here trying not to damage an internal organ with suppressed laughter. You can say he screwed himself with his behavior, but does it not cross a line to decide we can say anything about a guy, whether it hurts his family or not, because he's not deferential to reporters?

Chris Pizzello: Stick to sports, man. The "now-forgotten" Liam Gallagher and his band Oasis just sold out Madison Square Garden in one hour, as well as several other venues in the U.S. That tells me that they're not exactly off the radar.

Crooked referees

Bill Cross: I think the people you talked to underestimated the power refs have in basketball and baseball to fix games. In basketball it's pretty easy to get a player into quick foul trouble, especially a big guy. This could totally throw off the line or several of the unders and overs. In baseball, the home plate umpire has almost as much control over the outcome as a soccer ref. A few borderline calls throughout the game can change the outcome.

Heck, a home plate umpire could not really alter the game outcome but still alter the runs or hits over/unders by adjusting his strike zone just a little. Of course the really smart players in this would not have a one game hop, but gradually build up to the desired outcome over a few games to cover their tracks and make it look natural.

Ramon Creager: Your column could have been written about German soccer. Change the American team/league names (and other details) to German team/league names, and it would have been just as plausible. This scandal is notable precisely because no one thought such a thing could happen. We should not congratulate ourselves for being immune to something of this sort.

You make it sound like the NFL uses some sort of unique, inspired process to choose its referees. The truth is that top referees in Europe are chosen exactly the same way. They must do the little gigs first. The best rise to the top. The rest are weeded out. Robert Hoyzer was one of those weeded out. Thus, one can argue that the system worked.

You make the argument that major league games are impossible to fix here in the U.S. because of their visibility. Apparently this is just as true in Germany. Hoyzer got caught precisely because he fixed a German Cup game involving a lowly regional team, SC Paderborn 07, and the top flight Bundesliga team Hamburg SV. This minnow vs. shark game became notable when the minnows unaccountably won.

I guess my contention is that there is no real difference between US and European major sports when it comes to the integrity of the referees, save that a referee who fixed insignificant games got caught when he foolishly tried to fix one that counted.

Zafar Sobhan: A couple of other reasons why there haven't been fixing scandals centering on referees in the U.S. might be:

In hoops and football you have multiple refs, presumably helping to keep each other honest, unless you bribe the lot, which would be difficult. And soccer refs are amateurs -- that might make a difference in terms of quality and incentive.

I think the arguments about broad coverage and the fact that one single call in most American sports may not make that much of a difference are persuasive. I really think the fact that almost all games are televised and watched by millions and that Americans have an extremely good communication system via the Internet and talk radio and sports shows on TV and magazines makes it much harder to get away with something like this there. Nothing makes you more honest than millions of eyes watching your every move.

Dave Ciskowski: I think there are a couple factors you may have missed. One is the extent to which gambling on sports is completely legal and accepted in Europe. When I started watching Premiership games, I didn't catch it at first, but then I started to understand how prevalent it was.

The big example for me: I was watching an interview with some player. He was asked about his favorite goal, and talked about one he got in the FA Cup. He mentioned that he only found out that he'd be starting about 20 minutes before the game. So he called his dad and told him to put money down, that he would be the first player to score in the game. He knew the odds would be fantastic since he wasn't supposed to start. But his dad didn't or couldn't do it, and (as the player said), "Old Trafford at the time was the only ground without a Ladbrokes on site, so I couldn't do it myself."

I was floored when I heard that. For him, it was just an amusing anecdote. In the U.S., he would be Pete Rose. The gulf between the two extremes is astounding.

King talking: Several readers reminded me that there was a major league baseball umpire fired once for fixing games. His name was Dick Higham, and he was dismissed by the National League in 1882 after a private detective hired by the Detroit Wolverines uncovered the scheme Higham had been running with gamblers. This is, of course, prehistoric stuff, even for baseball, which dates its modern age to 1900.

Also, various readers recommended three books, all of them fictional, on the subject of officials and gambling in American sports.

"Crooked Zebra" by Bob Weltlich is a self-published novel with a plot I'm thinking you can guess from the title. Weltlich was a head coach at Texas, Mississippi, Florida International and South Alabama, taking all but Texas to the Tournament, and was an assistant to Bob Knight at Indiana.

"4th and Fixed: When the Mob Tackles Football, It's No Longer Just a Game" by former Broncos reserve running back Reggie Rivers is a novel, despite the nonfictionish -- or Fiona Apple-ish -- title. The Publishers Weekly review makes it sound like a football "The Harder They Fall," with mobsters fixing games to try to propel a team to the championship.

"Franchise" is a novel about gambling and football by former Cowboys player Peter Gent, who more famously wrote "North Dallas Forty."

Previous column: Officials and fixing

- - - - - - - - - - - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • Send an e-mail to King Kaufman.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------