URBANA — The official Chief Illiniwek logo may be under lock and key, but Chief supporters have created their own symbol to try to continue the tradition.
The Council of Chiefs, a group made up of former University of Illinois students who portrayed the Chief, publicly unveiled the new logo on Friday online and at GameDay Spirit in Campustown. GameDay will carry merchandise with the logo, starting with shirts and sweatshirts.
The council developed the new logo to "fill a void" for alumni and fans who wanted to celebrate the Chief but couldn't, said council President Steve Raquel.
The UI retired the Chief in 2007 after more than a decade of protest from groups who considered it a racist mascot, and it stopped mass-producing Chief merchandise soon afterward.
The Council of Chiefs tried to obtain control of the trademark but the UI retained ownership. The university continues to sell limited Chief merchandise online through its contract with Collegiate Licensing, but the merchandise is no longer sold in stores.
The university has also ordered pro-Chief groups on campus to stop using Chief images and the official logo in events commemorating the former UI symbol.
"They have restricted its use and production significantly over the years, almost to the point where you can't find it any more," Raquel said. "If we were going to continue to celebrate the tradition, we need to have some meaningful way of being able to do that."
In contrast to the official logo — a circular drawing of a Native American wearing a headdress — the new logo is square and more abstract, with three horizontal stripes of blue and orange symbolizing the warpaint worn by Chief portrayers, Raquel said.
Underneath is the word "Chief," although none of the merchandise will carry that word for now, he said.
"We have retained the right to produce that ourselves. We're looking at doing that down the road," Raquel said.
Raquel said the logo should be self-explanatory, and the group wanted to steer clear of any trademark battles with the university. For that reason, it also avoided anything that was too similar to the official logo.
"We felt like we accomplished that," he said, adding that the logo was shared with UI officials.
UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Friday: "We were made aware of the new logo and expressed concerns about it. We're still in the process of reviewing it."
Raquel said the group hasn't been pressured by the university to avoid using the new logo.
"At the end of the day, it's our trademark, it's our logo. We don't need their approval," he added.
Kaler said the university doesn't track licensing income by product, so she couldn't say how much it earns from Chief merchandise each year.
Raquel said the new logo reflects the "energy and power and tradition" of Chief Illiniwek. The group's website, thechieflives.com, shows schematic examples of the logo on T-shirts, with the stripes taking the place of the "E" in the words "Forever," "Lives" and "Remember."
The Council of Chiefs reached a merchandising agreement with GameDay last week, which will be exclusive for the first 30 days. Raquel said. He is hoping to sell the items at other retailers after that.
"The Illini population is craving merchandise like this," said Kevin Marks, merchandising manager for GameDay. "This is not an official university logo. It's not a replacement for anything. It is the Council of Chiefs logo. And it's a worthy cause, and we have chosen to support them by providing merchandise."
Depending on sales, the logo may be used on other merchandise, Raquel and Marks said.
A portion of the royalties will be used for service projects and scholarships, though details are still being worked out, Raquel said.
"Our end goal is that we hope the Chief comes back. We hope that the round logo comes back. Until that happens, we hope that people will support this new logo, and we'll wear it proudly," Raquel said.
On the web: http://thechieflives.com/