Friday, February 10, 2012
Bigger fish to fry than team nicknames
The "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo of University of North Dakota have become wearisome. Politicians and petitions continue the wrangling which is like watching a schoolyard fight.
"Have you no shame?" is a famous quote that was directed at Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was from Wisconsin which today is revealing its own brand of righties.
The "shame" quote might today be directed at those who continue to push a certain sports team nickname in North Dakota. It's a state that isn't often in the news. That's the way I think most inhabitants like it.
I used to make occasional trips to Grand Forks (up ol' Interstate 29) but I never visited the UND campus. The tempest in question is centered there. It seems odd thinking of "North Dakota" and "tempest" in the same breath.
North Dakotans tend to be conservative and conservatives don't like controversy.
We have a newspaper in Morris owned out of North Dakota. This is a newspaper chain that has historically been right-leaning in its political endorsements. They cleverly endorse a Democrat once in a while in non-pivotal races. But they trumpet conservatism and helped bring us Chip Cravaack, ousting the venerable James Oberstar who was gifted at "bringing home the bacon."
Conservatives like local control. For that reason they might prefer that the NCAA "butt out" of UND's business when it comes to the team nickname.
The reason local control has to buckle under sometimes is principle. We sure saw it in the Deep South. Who would have thought that a race or ethnic-based issue would have its vortex in the otherwise sleepy state of North Dakota?
Who would have thought the Nazis would ever come into play? One of UND's biggest benefactors, the late Ralph Englestad, was once punished in Las Vegas for celebrating Hitler's birthday. When your behavior becomes a bone of contention even in Las Vegas, it probably won't pass muster in North Dakota. Unless you have money.
Englestad was passionate about the Native American nickname at UND. He stipulated it remain.
I wrote a post back in June (on my "I Love Morris" blog) that I thought would be my last on the topic. Surely the issue was dragged to a resolution. "Dragged" might be an understatement. The passivity of North Dakota was being contradicted in an overwhelming way, inviting the scrutiny of social scientists perhaps.
I'm only writing about the subject now because it was in the headlines again Thursday (2/9). I'm sure many people are taken aback, like me, seeing the topic fester.
There were two prominent items on page 1 Thursday pointing to uncomfortable higher education-related subjects. The other was this discretionary fund where new U of M President Eric Kaler pulls the levers. It's contentious. What I glean from that article is that there's a huge golden parachute for the outgoing U athletic director.
Both of these subjects - the U of M and the Sioux - have an undertone of unease in connection with higher education, in my mind. You see, I think there is a "higher education bubble" that isn't going to end well.
We have seen the world change dramatically because of the IT revolution. The idea that we need "campuses" and their libraries as places to get and disseminate information may already be antiquated. The old model only persists because it's entrenched. You might call it "legacy power."
The article on Kaler suggested that his predecessor, Robert Bruininks - why doesn't he spell it "Brunix?" - was more prudent in how he spent the "special fund." (All funds are special, aren't they?)
But in reading how Bruininks spent the dollars, much of that seemed superfluous too.
Colleges desperately need their athletic teams to get attention. Someday we may look back and wonder why we expected these institutions to be quasi-professional sports operations.
Our changing world with information empowerment hasn't significantly chipped at the foundations of higher education, yet. Sometimes change starts with a trickle.
University of North Dakota was once known as the "Flickertails." It's an animal, sort of like a prairie dog, right? Maybe that nickname was deemed a little wimpy. In the old days, remember, college sports was a male bastion. It was a "macho" world. So, someone had the light bulb go on over his head - damn that individual - and thought an Indian warrior symbol would be nice.
What a legacy that individual left.
Look at the tremendous wasted time and effort fighting over this nickname. Look at how it has painted North Dakota.
The NCAA has been trying to nudge UND along to the proper resolution. The NCAA is that "outside influence" that people, usually conservatives, reject in a knee-jerk way.
But a school belongs to the NCAA voluntarily, am I correct? Can anyone really assert that the NCAA is out of bounds on this? Can't the seesaw nature of the issue end now?
Do North Dakotans really want to look ridiculous in the eyes of the American public? Do they realize how silly it is to have this tempest raging over something as trivial as a sports team nickname?
Let me tell you, if the higher education bubble begins to burst - stay tuned - a sports nickname will be the least of your troubles.