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Logo dispute goes far beyond sportsmanship

By James McKenzie

GRAND FORKS -- Dorreen Yellow Bird's column on the unsportsmanlike conduct of UND's athletic establishment in painting the new logo on the Hyslop floor was right on target, as she so often is ("Logo display raises question of sportsmanship," Page 4A, June 9). But unsportsmanlike conduct has been "par for the course" in so many ways for many of those "sportsmen" who favor keeping the name.

Who can forget that nasty, threatening letter that Ralph Englestad sent to President Charles Kupchella, with copies to the Board of Higher Education a day or two before their Dec. 21 decision? Surely, that was a foul of the first order. And was Reggie Morelli the only truth-teller in all that sorry twisting and turning about whether there were conditions attached to the hockey arena? Lots of unsportsmanlike speech in all of that, since one thinks of telling the truth as part of sport.

Then, there was the board's decision itself, arrived at without its having been put on the agenda and hiding the foul that Englestad had committed until an alert Associated Press writer discovered it. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem invoked strict interpretation of the rules, though, when he decided that it was then too late to protest.

And for unsportsmanlike conduct, it's hard to beat the death threats and much other hostile activity, including vandalized cars, hate mail, racist posters and other harassment some supporters of the name have engaged in -- events so numerous that they drew in the U.S. Department of Education to investigate. These continue, as demonstrated by recent harassment of a faculty member who resigned from the president's new Indian Studies committee, a principled decision she made after seeing the new logo in the Hyslop floor.

A problem with the Yellow Bird metaphor, however, is that it implies that it is all some kind of a contest, and the board's decision means the game is over. The Herald itself has taken this view ever since Earl Strinden called the protests by those still supporting a name change a "pimple on the behind of an elephant," another foul no one called. The Herald, in fact, endorsed Strinden's position in an editorial the same day it reported his "sportsmanlike" language ("Board ended debate about Sioux name," Page 4A, Feb. 24).

As a community, we should keep in mind that this derogatory phrasing would include elected regional tribal councils that have repeatedly petitioned UND to stop using the nickname and logo and many other local, regional, national and international organizations and church groups on record against the use of Indians as mascots.

Sportsmanlike conduct for all concerned in this matter would be a good start, but this dispute is not merely a contest between two sides, it is a test of the whole community's moral vision. To get to the place where we all can rally around the university's athletic teams, rally around the university itself, requires moral vision, intelligent courage, and robust imaginations.

McKenzie is a professor of English at UND.