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 When it didn’t, the Legislature repealed the law in November, wasting more of the public’s money and the lawmakers’ time on a frivolous issue.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.