Illinois, we got one question for you.
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
WHAT ARE THOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSE
Not many teams go heavy on the orange, and there's a reason—it's loud, garish and unseemly, like Gilbert Gottfried at an opera. This is also (roughly) the 70th incarnation of the Illini uniform in the last 15 years, because they switch these things up every time the team bottoms out, trying to "start some new tradition" or whatever. Bad teams do it all the time (hi, Indiana). It's like being on the deck of the Titanic and yelling at the captain, "This is all because of your stupid hat!"
The Illinois brand identity is now, evidently, just a Block I, which is perfect because there's definitely no other FBS school that uses that oh wait here's Idaho and here's Indiana and here's Iowa and here's Iowa State so great job Illinois, way to make it yours.
But c'mon. You know what we have to ask about. Illinois...
He's pretending as hard as he can! (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
WHAT. ARE. THOSE.
YOU PUT A WHITE BOY IN SIOUX CLOTHES AND MADE HIM DANCE AROUND LIKE AN INDIAN FOR OTHER WHITE PEOPLE'S AMUSEMENT. FOR DECADES. INTO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY.
You know what? I'm just going to cut and paste snippets from the Chief Illiniwek Wikipedia page, and we can just sit back and ponder life in a world where these things are said about what's essentially the PR wing (as all athletic departments are) of an American institution of public learning and higher education. Buckle up.
At the root of the controversy is the view of several American Indian groups and supporters that the mascot was a misappropriation of indigenous cultural figures and rituals and that it perpetuated stereotypes about American Indian peoples.
As a result of this controversy, the NCAA termed Chief Illiniwek a "hostile or abusive" mascot and image in August 2005 and banned the university from hosting postseason activities as long as it continued to use the mascot and symbol.
Chief Illiniwek is not based on an actual American Indian chief, nor did a historical figure with this name ever exist.
The stated intent of the Chief was to celebrate the Native American heritage of the state of Illinois.
In recent years he did not perform at road games, since other Big Ten universities refused to allow the character to perform at their home games, citing him as offensive.
His dance corresponded to the music and lyrics of the "Three in One" performed by the university band, which is an arrangement of three original songs entitled "The March of the Illini", "Hail to the Orange", and "Pride of the Illini".
The dance has evolved over time; each student who performs the role of the Chief augments the basic performance with his own movements and steps. Although it is claimed the dance is similar to traditional fancy dance, the Chief's routine includes mid-air splits, which are rarely found in Native fancy dance.
No student portraying Chief Illiniwek was of American Indian heritage during the 82 year span
Those in favor of retiring the Chief contended that the Chief misappropriates Native American culture and perpetuates harmful racial or ethnic stereotypes. They argued that this obstructed the creation of a diverse and tolerant learning community, harmed the reputation of the University, and promoted an inaccurate image of Native Americans. Those in support of the Chief claimed that he was a revered symbol representing not only a proud people but the great spirit of a great university.
If you think the story ends with the University of Illinois officially cutting ties with "Chief Illiniwek" in 2007, oh ho ho, just check out the "After Retirement" section, and try to wrap your head around just how hard up these interested parties are for this literally described by the NCAA as "hostile and abusive" mascot. So that's still going on. Hey, if your school's identity is centered around racial appropriation, I guess you'd fight to keep that racial appropriation intact and try to claim it's anything but that in the process. I guess.
Seriously: if this kind of stuff was written about Iowa's athletic department, you as a sentient adult would think long and hard about continuing to support Iowa athletics, right? Nobody attributes Illinois' continued irrelevance as an athletic department to its long embrace of outright racism (and no, cursory rejection for eight years after eighty of embrace don't negate the relationship), but it must matter. It must. God help us all if it doesn't.