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Analysis: $2 million pricetag for a mascot

By
AL SWANSON, United Press International

Marquette University's board of trustees has put off a decision on whether to accept a $2 million donation by board of trustees Vice Chairman Wayne Sanders and another trustee.

The catch is Sanders, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Kimberly-Clark Corp. and a fellow trustee will donate the money only if their alma mater reinstates the nickname "Warriors" for its athletic teams after dropping it in favor of "Golden Eagles" a decade ago.

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Sanders made the offer during a speech at commencement ceremonies in May when he said he and another trustee, who preferred to remain anonymous, were ready to write the $1 million checks if the school returned to "Warriors."

The Jesuit Catholic university in Milwaukee declined the offer, but the wealthy trustees got it on the agenda for a closed meeting of the board.

Predictably, Wisconsin's 40,000 American Indians oppose the name change. At one time Marquette's athletic mascot was the overtly stereotypical "Willie Wampum."

An online public-opinion poll that attracted 9,000 respondents showed a surprising range of opinion over whether the school should accept the $2 million gift. Former students who attended the university during the politically conscious 1960s and '70s favored a return to Warriors while more recent students who missed the glory years of Marquette basketball under legendary coach Al McGuire were more prone to be politically correct.

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Marquette won the NCAA Division I Men's National Championship in 1977.

"There is a diversity of opinion on the athletics nickname among members of the Marquette community," said the Rev. Robert Wild, president of the university. In the end trustees were asked to read the more than 2,000 pages of survey data before making a decision, a source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"I think it just sort of goes to the whole issue that people are at different places on that issue," Rana Altenberg, vice president for governmental and community relations, told the newspaper. "Some people can make the dissociation readily. Others cannot."

Native American tribes say Indian mascots are inherently racist and that the school would be regressing by dropping "Golden Eagles" in favor of "Warriors."

"As Indian people and as tribal leaders, we have consistently opposed the use of Indian nicknames, mascots, logos and slogans by school and professional teams," said Ray DePerry, president of the Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council and chairman of the Red Cliff Chippewa Tribe near Bayfield, Wis.

The council consists of 11 federally recognized Indian tribes in Wisconsin and Michigan.

DePerry fears Marquette will send a signal to other schools that it's OK to demean Indians if it accepts the money from powerful alumni and changes the mascot.

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"For years," he said, "the Marquette mascot was 'Willie Wampum,' a stereotyped Indian 'warrior.' It's been only 10 years since the name changed to Golden Eagles and if the old name comes back, the imagery could come back with it. Shamefully, there's enough happening in this society of ours that we don't need Marquette to get back on the bandwagon and propagate that kind of stuff."

Wild said there was no timetable for reaching a decision, although Marquette would like it out of the way before the university joins the Big East Conference in 2005.

Despite dropping "Warriors" in 1994, some Marquette boosters continue to wear old T-shirts with logos of an Indian warrior at school events and chant "Let's go Warriors" at basketball games.

They say the name is school tradition.

Supporters and opponents of the "Warriors" nickname rallied outside Alumni Memorial Hall Union on the campus last week. Opponents outdrew proponents four to one, but an ad hoc group called Students of Warriors collected more than 600 petition signatures in three weeks favoring the change.

The group Jesuit University Students Together in Concerned Empowerment argue the connotation of "Warriors" is incompatible with a Christian institution of higher education.

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Emotions run high.

Many current undergrads in the Marquette community say the name "Golden Eagles" is too wimpy. The only other choice offered a decade ago was "Lightning."

When the board of trustees voted to reconsider the athletic nickname in September it adopted a resolution to "consistently prohibit the use of Native American references and imagery in athletics, logo, nickname and mascot." But critics say it's hard imagining that can happen without considering the offensive ghost of "Willie Wampum."

Mark Denning, a grad who played the Warrior mascot at games from 1980 to 1983, told the Chicago Tribune he was booed and bombarded with racial epithets by Marquette fans who preferred the "Willie Wampum" character.

The decision to drop "Warriors" back in 1994 clearly stated the name referred to American Indians and was therefore unacceptable.

Some 31 schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association still use logos or mascots associated with Indians. A total of 1,028 colleges and universities are members of the NCAA.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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