- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

DENVER Go ahead, Washington, keep your Redskins. Florida State can have its Seminoles and Atlanta its Braves. But don't mess with the University of Northern Colorado's Fightin' Whities.
Frustrated by their lack of success in ridding the sports world of Indians, Braves and Seminoles and assorted ferocious tribes, several members of the university's Native American Student Services in Greeley, Colo., are fighting mascots with mascots. Now fans of the school's intramural basketball league can, and many do, cheer for the Fightin' Whities.
The team's players, who include American Indian, Hispanic and even Caucasian students, wear white T-shirts emblazoned with a drawing of a not very fearsome-looking Ozzie Nelson-era man in a suit and tie, obviously looking for his briefcase with a white-bread sandwich inside. In the caption he declares: "Every thang's gonna be all white!"
"We thought, 'Let's just turn the tables on them,'" says Solomon Little Owl, director of the university's Native American Student Services and a member of the team. "We disagree with Native American caricatures in sports logos, but when we raise the issue, people say, 'Oh, it's not derogatory, it's meant to honor you.' So we decided to show them how it feels."
Unfortunately for Mr. Little Owl's campaign, a lot of the whities think it feels, well, pretty good.
The name was intended as a rebuke to Greeley's Eaton High School, whose mascot, the Fightin' Reds (it doesn't mean fightin' communists), has become the target of protests. Unable to persuade officials in the rural, predominantly white school district to change the logo, American Indian leaders are hoping that the Fightin' Whities will drive home the point.
"It's reverse psychology. If they're offended, we just proved our point," says Mr. Little Owl.
So far, however, Greeley's whities don't seem to get it. Far from being offended by the nickname, locals are telling the Greeley Tribune they "loved" the Whities and want to know where to get their jerseys.
"As a white male, I'm not offended, I'm honored that they are doing this," says one anonymous e-mailer. "It isn't often that white males get any good news."
"My husband and son (and me too) are honored to be finally named as the treasured mascot for something, anything. What a treat!" wrote another e-mailer.
With the irony lost on the community, Mr. Solomon agrees that the Whities could soon find their cheering section filled with fans who aren't exactly bursting with Native American pride. "Some people don't realize what we're trying to do" he says. "I'm getting these calls and e-mails from people saying, 'Hey, we're rooting for your team, we're proud to be white,' like they're white supremacists or something. Our next game is going to be pretty wild."
Another Greeley resident pointed out that the Fightin' Whities are hardly the nation's first Caucasian mascots. The Fighting Irish, the Ragin' Cajuns, the Norsemen, the Flying Dutchmen, the Britons, the Highlanders and the Gallopin' Gaels were representing their universities long before the Whities arrived.
Ken McConnelloghue, the university's spokesman, harrumphs that he is not amused, and the university is officially "disappointed" by the team's decision.
"Our mothers told us that two wrongs don't make a right," he says. "Being derogatory because someone was derogatory toward you is not the best way to go about it."
But derogatory is as derogatory does. Doug Chamberlain, principal of Eaton High School, says the name "doesn't insult me at all," although he's not sure why his school has been targeted by Indian groups. "There are mascots elsewhere in the nation that are much more egregious, like the Savages, than what we have here."
A group known as the Coalition to Eliminate Native American Caricatures and Mascots in Colorado High Schools went to the school board earlier this year to try to change the mascot, but so far the board has taken no action. One reason is that the logo enjoys strong support from the 450-member student body.
Before the university's intramural team became the Fightin' Whities, it was the Native Pride. "At the time, there was all this news about the local school, the Reds, so we thought, 'If they want to have the Reds, then we can be the Fightin' Whities," says Charles Cuny, a UNC student and founder of the Fightin' Whities.
Mr. Cuny, who grew up on the Oglala Lakota reservation in Pine Ridge, S.D., says most people are taking the mascot as good clean fun. "Some people look at it as a joke; some might say we're crybabies."
Even if most people don't take the Fightin' Whities seriously, however, Mr. Cuny says the name has served its purpose. "It's a way to break the ice, to look at the issue in a different light," he says.
The team meets March 27 for the intramural basketball tournament, and the Whities are bracing for a big night. Mr. Little Owl says he expects between 200 and 500 persons, and he thinks a lot of them will be reporters and photographers.
"This is the beginning, and we're going to keep at it," says Mr. Little Owl. "The fight's on now." And if everything's not going to be all white, it might be all right.


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