Tate: Seeking common ground

Tate: Seeking common ground

Today's mission is a long shot, but one worth tackling.

It's rock-headed, of course, to believe there can be peace between the Hatfields and McCoys, or a single square foot of common ground between D.C. liberals and the Trumpites.

And such is the rancor churning inside Illini Nation, where we hear Honest Abe's words reverberating from Springfield nearly 160 years later: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Well, this athletic operation, at least within the revenue sports, is seen as more listing than standing.

This was apparent again Saturday as the Illini dropped their sixth straight football game, this time to Wisconsin, 24-10.

And in greater Illini Nation, the cry for success carries with it a hope for compromise between a vast Fighting Illini constituency that reverently connects with our Native American history as opposed to a determined minority ready to protest any alignment between athletics and Native American culture.

We saw the ugliness of it again Friday night when well-organized student protesters, objecting to the presence of Chief Illiniwek on a float, blocked the chancellor's car and effectively ended the homecoming parade on Green Street.

'We are the Fighting Illini'

Don't confuse this with a call for the return of Chief Illiniwek. Gone by official decree is the inauthentic — though widely respected within Illini Nation — symbol performing an inauthentic halftime dance. He was deemed "hostile and abusive" by the NCAA ruling body. No UI administration, now or in the future, will venture back into that stormy weather.

So the call for compromise is deafening. But it's touchy. You saw UI leaders run for cover when students proposed a mascot — creative ideas: Sassy Squirrel, Casper the Galloping Ghost, The Fighting Possums. And you witnessed the explosive fan reaction when Illini drummers were asked to cease the UI war chant, that act viewed (incorrectly) by the UI faithful as a first step toward eliminating the beloved 3-in-1 music.

How about this: Authentic Native Americans engaging in the same genuine pow-wow dance that has been performed at universities from Utah to Tennessee and in venues from the NFL to high school.

That's what was originally scheduled at Grange Grove on Saturday an hour before the UI-Wisconsin kickoff.

Scheduled, that is, until a fearful administration decided early this week that Grange Grove was "too closely connected to Memorial Stadium," and the visitors were asked to move across the street to Lot 31 (1st and Kirby).

These 38 Sioux from North Dakota's Spirit Lake tribe were invited by former Illini John Wright, Tony Henson and other local backers, and practiced Friday at Wright's farm near St. Joseph.

"Those people who speak out against our participation in sports events don't speak for us," said Eunice Davidson, the tribe spokesman.

Then Saturday morning, four beautifully costumed members danced to a drum beat near a stadium constructed to honor World War I veterans and, over the decades, steeped in Native American culture.

"We are," reminds Wright, "the Fighting Illini."

And it's certainly true that many fans, unaware of the military origination of the nickname, connect it with the state's Indian heritage.

Baby steps towards compromise

Henson and concerned Illini stakeholders, seeking an acceptable replacement for Chief Illiniwek, have reached out to UI administrators, donors, state politicians and the UI Board of Trustees, working to find a solution that would salve Chief backers without offending Chief detractors ... to somehow mend the cavernous wound.

Honoring war veterans and the native Illini Tribe has historically been part of the Illini athletic tradition, and what we saw Saturday was an effort to unify Illini Nation through these pow wows.

This so-called "solution on a silver platter" worked well this weekend but it does not, of course, end here. They someday hope to carry it inside the stadium by presenting the pow wow experience as part of the halftime ceremony.

That's a huge step, and one that will be feverishly resisted. It may never happen, but what we saw Saturday was outreach for the idea of compromise. We should laud this while also understanding that, while passionate fans never forget, adversaries never stop. For more information, check tonyhenson.blogspot.com.

Back to basketball

The UI's attempted recruitment of Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker might be described as a muddled mess of a mix-up.

The summer breakup that found THT leaving the Mac Irvin Fire's AAU team created swirling waters that Illini coach Brad Underwood couldn't quite navigate this week.

Once Morgan Park's Ayo Dosunmu announced — he was deemed in the fold for months, dating to the UI's decision not to chase Cal transfer Charlie Moore, also from Morgan Park — the question arose whether Illinois could attract THT.

Animosity between the two rival camps — the THT family vs. those representing Dosunmu — created a hissy-fit atmosphere early in the week after Horton-Tucker led UI coaches to believe he favored Illinois. In the final hectic days, in a labored decision carrying long-term repercussions far beyond what anyone can imagine, Underwood's valued connection with the Irvins took precedence.

"This goes back months and is a result brought by adults and families more so than the kids," says a Chicago source. "It was a train wreck."

Lost in that train wreck is the UI's valued relationship with Simeon coach Robert Smith. But something had to give. And Iowa State emerged as the big winner with the talented THT.


Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
JohnRalphio wrote on October 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm

The "determined minority" here is a handful of locals who can't bring themselves to let go of a racist mascot. And the News-Gazette is, as always, determined to stir the poo as much as possible to get attention, by articles like this one and the complete non-story about the protestors that didn't actually do anything violent.

Bwp 5P wrote on October 29, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Uh John...........I'm not a Local. I've watched Illini Sports since we had TV. I can remember as far back as 1958 (I was eight years old). THE CHIEF was always the "symbol"............not the mascot of THE FIGHTING ILLINI! Still can't fathom or understand why it's offensive, or Racist. Help me understand that please. He only appeard at half time. I accept that it wasn't an "authentic, perfect dance", but so what? Did it not accentuate the Native American Herittage of our State?

BruckJr wrote on October 29, 2017 at 7:10 pm

"Those people who speak out against our participation in sports events don't speak for us," said Eunice Davidson, the tribe spokesman."

capt80 wrote on October 30, 2017 at 7:10 pm

"the complete non-story about the protestors that didn't actually do anything violent"

You might want to take a moment and listen to the podcast of this morning's "Penny", where a woman who was riding in one of the cars in the parade called in and shared HER experience. 

Didn't do anything violent, sure ... they behaved like a bunch of animals. I can't believe the police stood by and let this crap go forward. They might as well rename the U of I ... Berkeley East.

honor9chief wrote on October 29, 2017 at 6:10 pm

Unfortunately John with that attitude there can't be a solution to the gap. Sir, there are approx. 125,000 pop. in the combined cities of Champaign and Urbana. Start spreading out from there. It is hardly a few locals but be patient eventually after all of the Native American hating is complete, over a simple fact of respect we will eventually be gone. Unfortunately the people were convinced that is was a hostile image AFTER Ms.Tetors got tired of seeing her heritage symbol being used on doormats and drunken Indians on a greek week tshirt. I think we can all agree with Ms. Tetor we wouldn't want to see our grandpa on a doormat. If you want to fill that stadium like it was when we were warned not to stomp our feet so hard because we were making it sway, return the Chief as it was before. Let the spirit of the Illini perform at halftime and then go back in the locker room . It's that simple but keep our symbol of spirit and pride off of beer bottles and toilet paper for God's sake. ILL

Let the players enjoy running on the field to a sold out stadium just as some of the other fortunate players have seen. 

jjohnson wrote on October 30, 2017 at 11:10 am

Wonderful last comment, however as one who agrees that the Chief as the University "used" him was not in the least "racist" and that some depictions were indeed not-thought out and thus offensive, I think we are largely wasting time trying to "bring back the Chief." It is sad and unfortunate, and I have no empathy for those who are so critical of Chief backers' (nor with the NCAA's and some of our Big Ten Opponents') attitudes from the outset, they "won" this battle. They need to learn a bit about being gracious winners, while we who supported the Chief need to move on from here and accept that the Chief is not returning. . .but will always live in our hearts.

ensullivan wrote on October 31, 2017 at 6:10 am

Considering the title of this article, and the fact that the Gazette is print media, I would have thought the author would take more time to do their research and come up with the appropriate language.  Native American regalia, while yes beautiful, are not "costumes." Would you ever write in a serious tone about graduation costumes and expect a positive repsonse? No. Readers would understand that to be a criticism on academia and the institution of higher education. Authors have enough sense to write articles about graduation using words like "ceremonial robes",  "academic regalia", etc.. The Native American population deserves the same respect in regards to this language choice. Calling the regalia "costumes" propegates an ignorance of culture which only deepens the great divide in the CU community over this issue. 

CommonSenseless wrote on October 31, 2017 at 2:10 pm





a set of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period.

"authentic Elizabethan costumes"

synonyms:          outfit, garments, (set of) clothes, ensemble; dress, clothing, attire, garb, uniform, livery; informalgetup, gear, togs, threads; formalapparel; archaichabit, habiliments, raiment

"each contestant wore a costume depicting her state"