After two decades of debates and protests, the Chief Illiniwek issue was finally laid to rest by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees by announcing that the mascot/symbol will appear for the last time on Wednesday. The Chief debate has always brought up a lot of mixed emotions for me. As an Illinois student, I was a pretty strong Chief proponent that believed that it was as unique and special as any tradition in all of college sports. Indeed, to this day, there are few moments that move me more than when the Chief raises his arms in the middle of the “Three-in-One” and the entire stadium sings “Hail to the Orange” in unison. At the same time, I thought a number of special interest groups and politicians (Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones in particular) outside of the University of Illinois community used the Chief as a hot-button issue to propel themselves into the spotlight when it really had nothing to do with them.
However, in the wake of being removed from college for a few years, the Chief issue simply wore me down to where it just didn’t matter to me anymore. All I wanted was for the story to go away so that it wouldn’t be rekindled every single fall when students came back to campus. I also couldn’t stand the small yet extremely vocal group of Illinois alums that threatened at every turn to stop supporting the university both financially and emotionally if the Chief were to ever be removed. There’s a whole lot more to being an Illini than the existence of the Chief, so I found these threats to be a sad indicator of the shallowness of a number of fellow alums.
When the NCAA announced last year that it would bar Illinois from hosting any national tournaments on campus as long as it allowed Chief Illiniwek to dance at halftime, it was only a matter of time before the announcement to end the tradition would come. While a number of Illini fans argued that the Chief could be kept since the NCAA ban wouldn’t affect the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball, the athletic department as a whole in its good conscience couldn’t effectively put an albatross on all of its other sports for the sake of a mascot/symbol. The ability to remove the NCAA ban was reason enough alone for the U of I Board of Trustees to get rid of the Chief.
Regardless of whether the impetus for ultimate decision to remove the Chief was to bow to politically correct interest groups or a self-interested action to be in alignment with NCAA policy, the timing was right. There will certainly be a lot of heavy hearts in the Assembly Hall in Champaign on Wednesday evening when the Chief appears for the final time. In the end, however, the fight to keep Chief Illiniwek simply wasn’t worth the cost to the rest of the University of Illinois.
(Image from Washington Post)