Katherine Kersten: Nicknames? U has its hands full with sports foes

  • Article by: Katherine Kersten
  • Star Tribune
  • October 14, 2007 - 10:10 PM

Last week, it looked as if the University of Minnesota was taking another principled stand against the University of North Dakota's despised "Fighting Sioux" team name.

An Associated Press story in the Star Tribune reported that a U of M policy discouraging the school's athletic teams from competing against UND in any sport except hockey "will stand." The U's Advisory Committee on Athletics had said in February that it would reconsider the policy, according to the AP. But Douglas Hartmann, the committee's chairman, "now says that won't happen."

The Gophers will continue to play other teams with Indian names. In November, the men's basketball team will take on the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Florida State Seminoles. (FSU's mascot is a white guy in full war paint who brandishes a spear on horseback.) In December, the Gophers women's basketball team will meet the Utah Utes.

These schools, unlike UND, have received the blessing of the NCAA to keep their Indian team names.

North Dakotans may find the U of M's policy on the Fighting Sioux surprising. They probably just don't understand how enlightened folks make decisions on such matters. UND's fans likely think it's enough that players and the community are inspired by the tradition of the Fighting Sioux name, which has a 75-year history, many Indian supporters and a beautiful logo of a proud Sioux warrior designed by an Indian artist.

But then, you'd expect that hokey "school spirit" stuff from simple country folk whose idea of progress involves improving sugar beet yields.

We do things differently in the big city. We send these weighty matters through Prof. Hartmann's committee.

You may wonder why the AP story quoted Hartmann, whose name isn't on the U of M Athletic Department roster. He's a sociology professor and current chairman of the advisory committee that approved the U's Fighting Sioux policy in 2003.

Hartmann is the author of that upcoming spellbinder, "Race, Class and Gender: An Emerging Perspective." You may also soon catch his "Putting Whiteness Theory to the Test: An Empirical Analysis of Core Propositions."

Hartmann and his fellow committee members wield great influence on the question of whether the U's athletes can play against politically incorrect teams such as UND.

The U's principled policy against playing the Fighting Sioux includes one notable exception: hockey. In hockey, unlike other sports, UND is a big-time Division I school -- in fact a national power, and one of the U's archrivals in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Where hockey is concerned, the U of M "must take its contractual obligations into consideration," says Dan Wolter of U of M media relations.

The Gophers-Fighting Sioux hockey games are some of the biggest of the year, and the U of M makes big bucks from them.

All this means that Gophers hockey teams must endure regular trips to UND's Ralph Engelstad Arena, where Fighting Sioux logos -- about 2,400 of them -- cover practically every square inch.

While the thought may give the advisory committee's profs heart palpitations, the young hockey players themselves seem made of sterner stuff. Nine of 10 WCHA team captains surveyed at the end of the 2006 season named the Fighting Sioux as having the best logo or opposing team uniform.

And yet, and yet. Perhaps the sociologists are just trying to spare the Athletic Department some further, shall we say, marginalization on other sports fronts. In football, for example, it's getting a little dicey with those uppity North Dakotans.

Last year, the farm boys at North Dakota State University (unthreateningly called the Bison) outplayed the U of M football team, which escaped total embarrassment by winning in the final minutes by only one point. This year, NDSU is ranked No. 1 in the NCAA's Division I-AA. The Gophers, on the other hand, have struggled.

When NDSU comes to town Saturday, the Gophers may demonstrate why it's best not to add more North Dakotans to the schedule.

When you can barely sneak past the Bison, you'd better not mess with the Fighting Sioux.

Athletic Director Joel Maturi can override the advisory committee's decision on the Fighting Sioux, according to Wolter.

Come on, Maturi. You aren't afraid of North Dakota, are you?

Katherine Kersten • Join the conversation at my blog, Think Again, which can be found at

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