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University of Illinois Releases Mascot

The University of Illinois announce Friday that their mascot, Chief Illiniwek, would be terminated following the final home Men’s Basketball game, ending years of controversy over the use of a Native American mascot.

The story in the Chicago Tribune, by Jodi S. Cohen, reported that the mascot would not return following the conclusion of the 2006-2007 Men’s basketball season. The story also reported that two students who portray the mascot filed suit against the university and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to save their mascot. “The Chief? has lived under much controversy over the past five years but this story only reported one instance of a student being threatened for having anti-Illiniwek beliefs. Much of the Native American population finds this practice and the use of the mascot to be demeaning to their way of life and their history. I feel that the biggest issue with this story is equally representing the viewpoints of the students, the university, the NCAA and the Native American population. In this story, Cohen generally only addresses the students’ views in any detail. While the university’s views and the NCAA’s views are only minimally discussed. Also, Cohen pushes the Native American reaction and chronology to the very end of the story as almost an after thought.

Last month the Oglala Sioux tribe that sold the university some of the chief's regalia, including moccasins, peace pipe pouch, breastplate and war bonnet with eagle feathers, demanded them back.

The story was also reported in the New York Times in the form of a formal article and an article in The Lede. The formal article by The Associated Press ran in the New York Times was much more limited than the Cohen version. This story reported much more on the controversy surrounding the mascot and less on the law suit filed by the students who play Chief Illiniwek. This story also emphasizes the importance of removing the mascot to the university’s ability to host post-season events such as playoffs.

School officials said they received a letter from the NCAA on Thursday that said the school will no longer be banned from hosting postseason events if it drops the mascot and related American Indian imagery. The NCAA's sanctions thus far have prevented Illinois from hosting postseason events in two low-profile sports.

The Lede version of the story also focuses on the reaction that the Native American population has had to the mascot’s removal. In most cases the Native American community is pleased to see the mascot removed as they felt that it was demeaning and racist.

Charlotte Wilkenson, 32, a Native American graduate student at Illinois, said to The Tribune: “This will be a time when we finally honor the people who have been fighting the issue, who have been saying all along to retire the chief in name, in symbol, in performance.?

The Lede reported little on the reactions of Illinois alumni who would miss the mascot but the story did make mention of these beliefs.

An Associated Press version also ran in the Star Tribune. This version was slightly different than the version that ran in the New York Times but fundamentally reported the same things. This story reported the story in much the same way as well. There was mention of the controversy, then a history of the mascot, then a reaction by a school official, and finally the information regarding the law suit.

While I found that many of these stories told the same story I found that the Cohen version in the Chicago Tribune was simply misguided. I think it is important to mention the fight that the Native Americans have been fighting, after all, would the university have gotten rid of the mascot if so many people hadn’t objected to its presence. I felt that the Native American viewpoint was significantly underrepresented in the Cohen version of the story. I did feel that The Lede did a very good job synthesizing all of the information that was reported in the various news outlets.