By David Stanczak
Several years ago, after the Politically Correct Athletic Association extorted the University of Illinois not to use any Native American symbols for its teams, I declared the name Fighting Illini meaningless, and modestly proposed a new name for the team, along with a matching mascot: The Crooks. But the idea never garnered enough support among the proposed team’s namesakes for the change to be effectuated. Much time has passed, and it is apparent that forces at the University are hell-bent on designating a mascot for the teams. A referendum to adopt Alma Otter, a river otter as the team mascot, one of several godawful proposals was recently voted down by students by a vote of 3,807 to 3,510.
The result of the vote made sense for several reasons. First, there would be a disconnect between the team name and the mascot. The two should match, or at least be somehow related to each other. If the proposal had passed, the mascot for the Fighting Illini would be an otter. The only conceivable link between the otter and the Illiniwek tribe is that some of our Native American forbears might have dined on otters and used their hides for clothing. Changing the team name (which is its identity) to match the mascot (its personification) is allowing the tail to wag the dog. Team name first, mascot second.
A related defect in the otter proposal goes to the essence of the mascot. Several of the other Big Ten teams have mascots that stand for aggressive, fierce beings: Spartans, Hawkeyes, Badgers, Wolverines, all people or things you don’t want to tangle with. In a confrontation between any of them and an otter, I know who wins that one. While it may be conceded that gophers and buckeyes, in their natural state, aren’t likely to generate fear in opponents, otters appear to be unnecessarily passive. And the thought of thousands of fans yelling, “Go otters” is something less than inspirational. Even calling them the Fighting Otters isn’t much of an improvement.
A third defect goes to the referendum itself. It seems that whatever the students decide will be implemented. The statue of Alma Mater makes clear that she is mother to all who have passed through the university, not just its present student body whose transitory interest is no greater than that of those who have preceded them. It is an historical fluke that the current students are on campus as a time of this great decision. Alumni should also be given a voice; all should be allowed to vote in the referendum.
Since I last opined on a team name, many things have changed, particularly with the election of a progressive governor who has brought about a vast increase in gambling and legalization of marijuana. As the flagship university, Illinois’ team name and mascot should reflect the character and personality of the state. Since our Native American ancestors no longer do so, I advance two modest proposals.
One would be to call our team the Betters. Game cheers could include “We’re Better, we’re Better.” The Better team is expected to win, and now that would always be Illinois. To buttress the theme, the areas below the east and west stands of the stadium, and the concession area of the State Farm Center could be furnished with all sorts of gaming devices and one of them could even be remodeled into a casino. It would fit in. Backing the Illini is often a chancy activity; the facilities should reflect that reality.
The legalization of recreational marijuana could also be reflected in a team name and mascot. The team name could be changed to the Fighting Tokers, or the Choomers, or the Hitters, or the Grass Growers. Recreational grass is in, and what location is more recreational than an athletic venue? Concession stands could include a Potillo’s. No need to buy the newly available alcohol to drown your sorrows over the game. Get mellow with gummies or brownies and forget the score.
The need for action on these proposals is urgent. The otter backers aren’t giving up. They’ll be back with anotter referendum, and the opposition needs to have a counterproposal; urging students to just say no to the otter isn’t going to carry the day, particularly in the face of a campaign that is well-organized and as slick as wet otter fur. We need prompt, decisive action to prevent an otterly ridiculous result.
David Stanczak, a WJBC commentator since 1995, came to Bloomington in 1971. He served as the City of Bloomington’s first full-time legal counsel for over 18 years, before entering private practice. He is currently employed by the Snyder Companies and continues to reside in Bloomington with his family.
The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.