Friday, February 16, 2007

A Right to Dance at Halftime?

It appears that the University of Illinois plans to end Chief Illiniwek next week. However, the students who dress up as the Chief have filed a lawsuit, claiming that the removal of the Chief role violates their freedom of speech and academic freedom (because they receive course credit for their portrayal). Sorry, but this one is an easy call. Nobody has a free speech right to force a university to maintain a mascot they don't want. The University gets to decide who can dance like a fake Indian on their basketball court during halftime. If these students want to dress up like a fake Indian and dance on the quad, they have right to do so (yes, there is a right to dance), but they don't have the right to impose themselves on the university's event.

A slightly more complex question is the NCAA sanctions against the university for having an Indian mascot (banning postseason tournaments at the U of I). Although I'm very critical of the Chief and regard as a silly, racist tradition that should be ended, I'm opposed to the people who tried to have the government ban it as a racist form of harassment. I'm also opposed to the NCAA sanctions. But the NCAA isn't a government, and it has the power to make these mild sanctions against the university, even if it should try to use shame and argument instead. I can't see any plausible lawsuit against the NCAA or the U of I. The Chief supporters, if a fake Indian dance is so treasured by them, should try to persuade the Board of Trustees to fight the effort, not file frivolous lawsuits that falsely invoke free speech.

UPDATE: The U of I has announced that it is ending the Chief's dance. Ideally, my alma mater will be a proud institution without a goofy mascot, which would be wonderful. However, if a mascot is required, perhaps we can have the Illinois Lincoln, featuring a guy in whiteface and a beard doing a wacky Abe dance. After all, this is how we honor people, apparently.

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