North Dakota nickname controversy hurts school

February 22, 2012


The pained expression on his face betrayed Dave Hakstol’s emotions last week, when the North Dakota hockey coach reluctantly raised the white flag on his support for the Fighting Sioux nickname. Hakstol, fiercely proud of that name during his three years as a player and 12 seasons as a coach in Grand Forks, had concluded the cost of keeping it is simply too high.

He was just the latest North Dakota loyalist to voice that opinion. Football coach Chris Mussman, athletic director Brian Faison, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the president of the alumni association and several former athletes also have gone on record opposing the endless efforts to cling to the nickname. Still, the pro-Fighting Sioux forces rage on, even as their unwinnable cause wreaks havoc on an institution they claim to care about.

Their refusal to face reality has escalated from the embarrassing to the destructive, endangering the school’s ability to succeed in Division I sports and harming its national image. If they truly treasured UND, they would recognize that no symbol — no matter how beloved — is worth this kind of blind allegiance.

That is why Hakstol, Faison and others have given up the fight. They understand the NCAA’s unwavering rejection of the nickname means it has to go if the athletic department is to remain viable. They also know that retiring it does nothing to diminish UND’s seven hockey championships, or the thrill of its football Saturdays, or its trove of Division II trophies. By refusing to sacrifice its future to an icon of its past, they have proved they genuinely have the school’s best interests at heart.

For that, they have been labeled cowards and appeasers by a pro-nickname crowd that has become increasingly irrational. An NCAA ban on Native American nicknames and images, enacted in 2005, mandated that UND drop the Fighting Sioux name unless it got permission from local tribes to keep it. The Standing Rock tribe has not acquiesced, so the school has been phasing out the nickname and logo.

Nickname supporters convinced the Legislature to pass a law last March requiring the school to keep the name. They naively thought that would make the NCAA back down. When it didn’t, the Legislature repealed the law in November, wasting more of the public’s money and the lawmakers’ time on a frivolous issue.

Many in the state have grown tired of the impasse, and the university has already spent $750,000 to take the Sioux nickname and logo off of everything from team uniforms to its website.


Shane Garrett 5 years, 11 months ago

Next it will be High schools. Look out Wamego, Red Raiders.

Armen Kurdian 5 years, 11 months ago

Excuse yourself Ms. Blount, the NCAA has no damn business telling a school what it can and can't call itself. It is the one that created this controversy, making an arbitrary politically correct and cowardly decision to force schools to change their names, erasing their persona and forcing a new history upon them. It DOES diminish the individuality of the school. You wanna go after Haskell "Indian Nations" University next? How about if the NCAA demands no nicknames that have violent connotations next? I dare you to tell me you'd let them eliminate the Jayhawk from Mt. Oread. I'm sick and tired of left-wing zealots telling us what we can and cannot think, say, and do.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 11 months ago

Ah, for the goodle days, when you could be as racist as you wanna be.

hawklaw98 5 years, 11 months ago

My wife is a UND Alum and UND has done much more for native americans than any of the hypocritcal schools in the NCAA, The Univ of Illinois "Fighting Illini" get to keep their name because an affiliated tribe agreed. Many of the schools in the same conference that compete against UND- namely Minnesota and Wisconsin are extremely politically correct and attack UND for its nickname and yet do very little to assist native americans educationally; unlike UND. Also one of the major tribes in North Dakota endorsed the nickname, while the Standing Rock Chief refused to allow the tribe members to vote on the nickname, and polls showed that a vast majority of the members favored the "Fighting Sioux" nickname because it does honor the heritage of the tribe; they were fierce warriors who defeated Custer and the 7th Calvary and also defeated their neighboring tribes to dominate the Northern Plains prior westward expansion.

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