Nickname debate: Hawkeyes weigh in

Posted March 7, 2012 at 9:50 am



Even the University of Iowa has weighed in on the University of North Dakota nickname issue.

A report came out recently that the Hawkeye track and field teams have rescinded an invitation to North Dakota to participate in an April 21 track meet in Iowa City.

The reason involves North Dakota’s nickname, the Fighting Sioux. The NCAA is imposing sanctions on North Dakota because it hasn’t yet gotten rid of the nickname and logo, which the NCAA considers “hostile and abusive.”

I wrote about this in December, when the state’s legislature had repealed a law mandating the nickname, and the school had begun the process of retiring it. It certainly appeared that the battle was over.

Except that citizens of North Dakota – more than 17,000 of them – signed petitions requiring a referendum on the issue. So in June, the entire state will vote on whether to turn the nickname into a law again. And in the meantime, the nickname and logo are back in place.

Like UND, I have gone back and forth on the issue. I jumped on the Sioux hockey bandwagon back in 1996, and have ridden along ever since. Having not attended the school, nor grown up cheering for the Sioux, it didn’t bother me a whole lot to see that the name was going to be retired.

Diehard Sioux fans seem determined to fight the battle, even as the NCAA digs in its considerable heels. Ultimately, it’s likely to cost UND in terms of recruits, and the school’s athletics as a whole seem likely to suffer in the long term.

I get that. I would have no problem seeing the Sioux go away, and even have some fun coming up with a new nickname, except for two things.

First, there’s something appealing about a small, underdog fan base fighting back against the big, bad NCAA.

And second, it’s annoying when universities pile on and decide they, too, are offended. It strikes me as a form of bullying. Schools may be inclined to avoid scheduling UND so they don’t appear to be opposing the biggest bully of them all.

Which brings us to Iowa and its track meet. Yes, Iowa has reportedly had a policy in place about Native American nicknames for several years. UND was originally invited to this meet when it appeared the Sioux nickname was going away. With the nickname back in use until the June referendum, Iowa took back its invitation.

It’s interesting to note, however, that Iowa doesn’t think twice about scheduling Illinois, which has a Native American-based nickname and logo that have also been under attack. The Fighting Illini are still on the schedule due to “contractual obligations,” according to news reports.

You can debate for years about whether or not Native American nicknames are offensive. I’ve been on both sides (“Redskins?” Really?), and am not 100 percent in either camp.

Maybe it’s not our place to debate it at all. If Native American groups are offended, why should people be working overtime to continue offending them?

What clouds the issue, though, is that many Native Americans are not offended, and consider it an honor. One of the two largest tribes in North Dakota voted overwhelmingly in favor of Fighting Sioux nickname. And the UND logo was actually designed by a Native American.

I’m sure the Sioux will be just fine without the Hawkeye track meet. In fact, they have already competed in Iowa twice this year, at a pair of indoor meets at Iowa State. UND is also scheduled to compete in the Jim Duncan meet April 13-14, and the Drake Relays April 26-28, both in Des Moines.

It might be nice to see the Fighting Sioux do particularly well in those meets.