Sept. 14, 2018
Column: Replace Chief Illiniwek with new mascot: Keith Not-At-All-Woke
by Rex Huppke
Eleven years seems like a long time to mourn a college mascot. If we’re being honest, I think the mascot would’ve wanted you to move on by now. Maybe find another costumed persona to embrace, even if the new character didn’t have the same culturally insensitive edginess of the old one.
But apparently some University of Illinois fans just can’t let the past go. They remain haunted by a 2007 decision to ban the controversial Chief Illiniwek. My colleague John Keilman reported that an advisory committee at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign raised the idea that “the university should ‘explore the possibility of new traditions that could include a mascot’ after a series of conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and others in the spring.” Chief Illiniwek was a source of controversy for years at the university, with many students, professors, outside groups, Native American organizations and people who have eyes viewing the mascot as an offensive appropriation of Native American culture that perpetuated certain racist stereotypes. But those still bummed about the banning of Chief Illiniwek just aren’t ready to take the next step. In Keilman’s story, Ivan Dozier, a former Chief Illiniwek and alumni adviser for a group called Students for Chief Illiniwek who is of Native American descent, said: “There has been a huge void left by the absence of Chief Illiniwek. I firmly believe nothing else can fill that gap.” A 2016 Tribune story noted that, “Although Dozier supports the Chief, the tribe he claims heritage to does not. The Five Civilized Tribes, which includes the Cherokee Nation, stated in a resolution from 2008 that ‘American Indians as mascots is a negative means of appropriating and denigrating our cultural identity,’” and that it considered the use of such mascots “offensive and disgusting.” I can’t relate to an obsession over a mascot, perhaps because I never bonded with the one at my college. I went to Lehigh University and, at the time, the sports teams were called the Lehigh Engineers. I assume our mascot was a train or a nerd or something like that. I wouldn’t know because I was too busy engaged in deeply intellectual pursuits, like drinking terrible beer from an old Timberland boot. It’s possible our mascot was an old Timberland boot. I just have no way of knowing. Lehigh’s mascot is now the Mountain Hawk, which is awesome and something I would definitely bond with while drinking boot-beer. Anyway, I feel really bad for the mascot-less dudes at the University of Illinois who are still mad that someone took away Chief Illiniwek simply because the character was deeply offensive to an entire swath of humanity. If only the Native Americans who were bothered by the mascot and raised such a fuss knew what it was like to have something precious taken away. The advisory committee is recommending some sensible steps forward, including ideas that would help educate students about Native American history and culture and using the Chief Illiniwek mascot’s history at the university — and the surrounding controversy — as a teaching opportunity. That all sounds good. And I have an idea for a new mascot that might be helpful. Decked out in the classic blue and orange colors of the Fighting Illini, the new mascot will stand tall and proud, a fun-loving caricature of a university student wearing a backward baseball cap, a University of Illinois hoodie and a look of mild aggrievement. In keeping with the rhythm of Chief Illiniwek’s name, the mascot will be dubbed: Keith Not-At-All-Woke. Keith loves his university, and he REALLY loves sports! He’s not at all woke and doesn’t understand why his opinion on a culturally insensitive caricature of a Native American doesn’t trump the opinions of most actual Native Americans. His motto is: “IT’S A TRIBUTE! THEY JUST DON’T GET IT!” At every game, Keith Not-At-All-Woke fires up the crowd, cheering loudly while also showing a hint of sadness. Keith also has a blog about Chief Illiniwek that nobody reads. And he vapes. This new mascot will revitalize the spirit and enthusiasm of University of Illinois students and will maintain a precious Illini tradition by appropriating another group’s culture, with the group this time being “aggrieved college bros mad they can’t get what they want.” I’m sure they won’t mind. Keith Not-At-All-Woke isn’t meant to be insulting. He’s simply a tribute to their heritage.