Ken Garten: Should mascots be under this much scrutiny?

Staff Writer
The Examiner
The Examiner

In 1983, a group of about a dozen of us MU Law Students road-tripped to the University of Illinois to watch Mizzou face the Fighting Illini in football.

We were chaperoned by my dear law school buddy Paul “Herbert” Lawrence, who was from Illinois, where he now sits as a circuit judge, and a then recent graduate of University of Illinois undergrad school before joining the first-year law school class with the rest of us at neighboring MU.

One thing I learned that weekend, University of Illinois fans had a deep love of their team, their school and its rich traditions. The Fighting Illini mascot since 1926 had been Chief Illiniwek, a figure clad in Native American attire, headdress and all, who during the pregame ceremony at the packed stadium did a Native American-themed dance that silenced the crowd in awed respect, and fired them up for their beloved team, university and mascot.

It was something to experience, and I’m glad I did.

In 2005 under pressure from Native American groups, the NCAA cited Chief Illiniwek as one of a number of “hostile or abusive” mascots, and in 2007 effectively banned him from traditional game day activities.

Talk about political correctness run amok.

And ever since those times certain elements of the Native American community have been doing all they can to ratchet up pressure on teams and fans whose team identity and mascot identify with the Native American culture and symbolism.

And now, our beloved Chiefs, whose symbolism and pre-grame rituals contain what can only be described as fervent love and esteem for such symbolism, are nonetheless under attack by certain individuals who identify themselves as descendants of Native Americans.

“They need to get rid of everything. They need to change the name. Everything….. (E)verything needs to go. It’s racist,” one self-proclaimed leader of this movement has said.

Let’s consider this assessment.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines “racism” as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race … (or) racial prejudice or discrimination.”

The Chiefs mascot, and the fans’ love of their team’s lore for over half a century, do nothing to promote or in any way symbolize racism or a view that a certain race or races are superior or inferior to any other, or in any way discriminate against any group or race, but instead constitutes the great American tradition of sports teams adopting an identity that their fans love, cherish and emulate on game day.

And sadly, the Chiefs organization has sold out to these pressures, with new rules eliminating long-observed attire and rituals that have been a glorious part of the Chiefs tradition for decades.

That is not racism. It does not denigrate or purport to portray the superiority or inferiority of any group based upon race. It’s a sports team, for crying out loud.

But there will always be people who are against anything, even sports team mascots, as ridiculous as that seems to me. And it is a mistake, and a shame, that the NCAA, the Chiefs and teams that have been around for decades have seen fit to bow to this pressure.

Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at