by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - March 7, 2001: Let's Just Call 'em "The Gringos":
King Kaufman has a great story in today's edition of Salon that describes how a very wealthy donor to the University of North Dakota has managed to put a halt to plans to change the name of the university's athletic teams from the racially offensive "Fighting Sioux" to something less ethnically charged.
It turns out that one Ralph Englestad, a wealthy Las Vegas casino owner who played hockey for the University of North Dakota several decades ago, and who has been funding the construction of a new hockey arena at the university threatened to stop his contributions if the university drops the "Fighting Sioux" label. So far Englestad has contributed about $100 million to the school, including about $35 million towards the construction of the arena that will cost a total of $85 million to build. He feels so strongly about the team nickname that he is willing to write off the $35 million.
Englestad is a controversial character who has been fined over $1 million by Nevada Gaming Control Board for bringing discredit on the state by twice holding Adolph Hitler birthday parties in his casino. (Englestad claims that he despises Hitler, and that the Schikelgruber birthday bashes were just meant as spoofs to publicize his collection of Nazi memorabilia.)
In North Dakota money talks, and $85 million talks very loudly. The State Board of Education in a remarkable display of spinelessness voted 8-0 to keep the offensive appellation. They did make a minor change. It's no longer the "Fighting Sioux" but just the "Sioux". However, the Board failed to understand that the reason Native Americans don't appreciate having athletic teams named for them is that it fosters stereotyping. More often than not, the team mascot is a demeaning caricature of a Native American, and the team cheers add to the stereotype (recall the Atlanta Braves "tomahawk chop").
Here in California nearly 180 schools, including two campuses of the California State University system retain nicknames such as "braves", "chiefs", "Indians", and "warriors", all of which Native Americans consider offensive. Four still use the name "Redskins", which in the IP's opinion isn't just offensive, but downright racist.
If anyone suggested changing the name of the University of North Dakota's teams from the "Fighting Sioux" to the "Fighting Swedes" or the "Fighting Italians", the phone would be ringing off the hook in the Governor's mansion within a few nanoseconds.
On second thought maybe such a name change would have a salutary effect. For a short period of time, say a couple of months, why not change all those Indian mascot names to "The Fighting Gringos". Let's see how long that one would last.
© 2001 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.