Wednesday night marks the final performance of Chief Illiniwek, the dancing Indian mascot of the University of Illinois. He'll perform one last time at halftime of the last home basketball game of the season, against Michigan, then be retired. Not a moment too soon, and maybe 30 years too late.
After nearly two decades of active protest and almost as many years of administrative foot-dragging and committee forming and recommendation ignoring, the university has finally capitulated because the continued existence of the chief was starting to hit the school in the wallet, a very sensitive place. The NCAA had banned Illinois from hosting postseason events because of the offensive mascot. That ban will now be lifted.
The argument against the chief has been that it's a demeaning, insulting symbol that perpetuates racist ideas about a culture that has been devastated, all but wiped out, by the majority culture in this country.
Maybe I'm a namby-pamby, ultra-p.c. pantywaist for saying that, but I just have this funny idea that maybe the aftermath of a genocide -- an epoch that, for the people in question, lasts generations, if not centuries -- is a good time for a little extra sensitivity.
The argument to keep Chief Illiniwek is built around the idea that the mascot honors American Indians. That's a fair thing to argue, and there are American Indians who feel that way. But there are a lot who feel demeaned.
And I have to tell you. I'm not an American Indian or an American Indian activist. I feel no particular bond with Native Americans. Their issues are not necessarily my issues. And I've been to Illinois home games and seen Chief Illiniwek perform and it was absolutely squirm-inducing. It felt like watching a minstrel show.
That's just one bystander's view, but it always seems to me that the arguments supporting the chief come down to this: The mascot is meant to honor, not demean, and therefore, you have no right to feel demeaned.
Then there's often some name-calling, branding those who want to get rid of the chief as "politically correct," sort of the last argument of a scoundrel. Politically correct is what some people call you if they don't like it when you ask them to have some respect for other people.
The real issue for most, I suspect, is that Illiniwek is a long-standing tradition. The mascot has been around since 1926, and when you mess with people's memories and traditions, they get angry. The argument is: We don't care who is offended or how anybody feels. We've always done it this way, we like doing it this way, we don't want to change it, and we think the majority should rule on this issue, provided of course that the majority agrees with us.
I actually think that's a great argument. Funny thing is, nobody ever makes it publicly. Guess they're all just too politically correct.
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Britney Spears, hockey fan? [PERMALINK]
The Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League are offering Britney Spears an escape from her recent troubles in the form of an all-expenses-paid trip to tranquil Syracuse, N.Y., to watch the Columbus Blue Jackets minor league team play.
"The team and community want to provide Britney Spears with a stress free environment and the chance to experience a high level of hockey," the team said in a statement.
Wait, why did the team release a statement? Why not just invite Britney? It's almost like this is some kind of publicity stunt!
"In addition to being 3,000 miles away from Hollywood, Syracuse is light years away from that pretentious environment," the statement continues. "There won't be paparazzi within a 100 miles."
Riiiiiiiiiiiight. The Crunch issued a press release about the invitation, but it's going to keep photographers away if she comes. I'm pretty sure if you grab Britney Spears by the shoulders and give her a good shake, two paparazzi fall out -- and it's only two now because she shaved her hair off the other day.
Note to Britney: If you believe there won't be any paparazzi within 100 miles, I have a canal you might want to buy.
This kind of thing really burns me up. The rich get richer, as usual. Like Britney Spears really needs a free trip to Syracuse and free hockey tickets. Hey, I have a stressful life. I have problems. I got potty training in stereo at my house. But does anybody offer me a free trip to Syracuse? No.
Maybe if I shaved my head.
And that's another thing. She didn't even shave her head, if the photos are an indication. She just buzzed it on the zero setting. Nice stubble, Brit. Geez.
Actually, I'm only talking about this whole thing so I can reproduce a sentence from the Associated Press story about the Crunch's offer, a sentence so sublime, so right in so many ways, that an entire afternoon could be passed happily reading and rereading it.
"The Crunch have also offered any woman who goes to the team's ticket office with a shaved head free admission to the team's Feb. 24 game against the Manitoba Moose."
Previous column: NBA finally gives old-timers pensions
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