Pember: Money and influence behind Indian mascots

"The battle over the use of American Indian names and mascots among college and professional athletic teams has a seldom-told economic backstory. It’s more than simple alumni sentimentality.

Money, influence and power often play a significant role in decisions regarding the use of these symbols. Paraphernalia bearing the images bring in millions of dollars each year to the institutions. But the names and images have been decried as disrespectful and insensitive to American Indians.

And it is the tribes, along with philanthropic, education, professional and civil rights organizations, that are leading the movement to retire the symbols.

The most recent and possibly most visible mascot retirement came in February when University of Illinois trustees chose to discontinue the use of the school’s mascot, Chief Illiniwek. The circumstances of the Chief’s demise shed a glimmer of light on the powerful economic forces at play behind these struggles.

Buried in the fanfare of Chief Illiniwek’s last dance was the fact that the university’s board of trustees met last month to decide what the school will do with the mascot’s trademark. A group of alumni and students who formerly portrayed the Chief have asked to have it transferred to their nonprofit organization, Council of Chiefs. University chancellor Richard Hermann will determine the fate of the Chief’s copyright, a process which he reported could take up to a year. The university earned $1.8 million last year from the sale of licensed merchandise."

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Farewell To the Chief: Farewell To the Chief (Diverse Issues in Higher Education 4/5)

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