June 14, 2012
I’m hoping the longest-running drama in American college sports has come to an end.
Voters in North Dakota voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to allow the state’s flagship university to drop the Fighting Sioux moniker. North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education made the removal official Thursday.
Of course, this does not mean Colorado Springs hockey fans will be free from the Fighting Sioux circus. When North Dakota fans invade World Arena on Nov. 30, we once again will be forced to listen to the national anthem completed – and polluted - by the word “Sioux” instead of brave. Alas, you can’t vote away rudeness and cluelessness.
But this week’s votes offer a crucial step to a better day. Voters in North Dakota made a commendable move into the 21st century.
Sandy Telehey, 51, is a proud native of North Dakota. She voted Tuesday on Measure 4. A yes vote allowed the university to drop the nickname. A no vote offered fresh breath to never-ending arguing.
Telehey did not hesitate.
“I voted to can the whole Fighting Sioux activity,” she told me. “It is offensive to some people. Now, I know people are offended by everything, and you can’t change everything for every person who is offended.
“But we can change this, and if this is offensive, let’s just get rid of this so the kids can play.”
Well said, Sandy.
A little background on the controversy:
The Fighting Sioux moniker gradually replaced UND’s former nickname, Flickertails, during the 1930s. Despite repeated and spirited protests from Native Americans, the moniker remained firmly entrenched.
In 2005, the NCAA announced imminent sanctions to schools using Native American images that were “hostile and abusive.”
If UND had kept the moniker, the NCCA planned to prevent the school’s teams from competing in playoffs. Officials from Minnesota and Wisconsin had indicated they would not allow their teams to play UND. North Dakota voters had little choice Tuesday.
Supporters of the Fighting Sioux moniker are filled with what they consider righteous fury. Trust me on this one. You do not want to tangle with those who cling fiercely to the Fighting Sioux tradition. I’ve argued with dozens of the traditionalists, and they are relentless.
For the past half-dozen years, there have been legal battles and endless bickering. A big pile of money has been spent, and wasted, on the Fighting Sioux issue.
Those who cling to the Fighting Sioux moniker have misdirected their devotion. The moniker supporters I’ve talked with are fiercely devoted to UND’s hockey team. And I must say this: UND hockey fans are among the best in college sports, right up there with Kentucky basketball fans and Alabama football fans.
But a change in the images of UND sports will do nothing, really, to alter the hockey program.
I’m a graduate of Syracuse. For decades, white guys dressed up as the Saltine Warrior, a repulsive Native American caricature. These white guys whooped and danced on the sidelines of football games while embarrassing themselves and the university.
The Saltine Warrior was dismissed in 1977, when a brave and wise chancellor named Melvin Eggers listened to the protests of local Native Americans. There was, as you might expect, a massive outcry. Longtime fans promised to boycott games. Old-timers vowed to embrace the Warrior forever.
Forever did not last long.
When I arrived in Syracuse in 1985, the Saltine Warrior was a distant memory of less-enlightened times, a symbol that did not belong in modern-day reality. And Syracuse, where Stephen Crane, William Safire, Frank Langella, Lou Reed and Vanessa Williams studied, is doing just fine without him, thank you.
The residents of North Dakota are justly proud of their state university and its mighty hockey team. The Fighting Sioux exit was long overdue, but let’s not get caught up in the tardiness of the departure.
Let’s rejoice this senseless drama has ended.