University of Illinois Offers 'Chief Illiniwek' Merchandise Buyback Program Before Introducing New Mascot
The University of Illinois is doing its best to move away from its Native American mascot, Chief Illiniwek. Like the Cleveland Indians and other sports teams that use Native American imagery, the school and its community have made moves to address concerns about the racially insensitive nature of the mascots.
Back in 2015, a UI professor wrote to the university's then-chancellor asking why Chief Illiniwek items were still available for purchase. After years of debate, it looks like the school is changing its mascot, likely to the belted kingfisher. While it's not quite finalized, the Illinois Student Government posted on Facebook that it would offer a buyback program where students could exchange new or used Illiniwek merchandise for new merchandise.
As you might imagine, the online Illinois community has some things to say about removing the long-standing symbol.
"I will be keeping my Chief items," one person wrote. "They are the honor, integrity, determination and grit of the Illini nation. The spirit walks the campus and wonders how we have come to this?"
"A chief is a high honor and it is a symbol of strength," another wrote. "Now some may be offended because they think they're being mocked when the dance is done. I can understand that. Maybe edit or omit it. If you were smart, you would make this an educational moment and join forces with Native American tribes and come up with a solution. This could be a good opportunity for education."
It's important to be clear that the Illinois Student Government is not requiring anyone turn in their Illiniwek merchandise. People are still free to keep them. They're not going to come knocking on dorm room doors or pull people from the stands at games demanding they turn over their pennants. But, if students feel like turning in what will likely become outdated (or, to some, sentimental) merchandise in favor of the new mascot, they can do it for free. (College bookstores are expensive.)
It's actually pretty similar to the case of Chief Wahoo in Cleveland or the "Tomahawk Chop" in Atlanta. The teams take action to try and appease critics (especially members of the Native American community) and make everyone happy, but make a whole bunch of other people unhappy in the process.
There are no winners in this situation. People are going to be upset that their alma mater or favorite team changed its name when they don't see anything wrong with it. They might be upset that they feel the student government is overstepping. On the other side, it's a pretty thoughtful move of the ISG to give people the chance to celebrate a new beginning for the team and get some new, free stuff if they want it. That last part is the key.