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Fighting Irish’ moniker found offensive

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

An open letter to Dr. Myles Brand and the Executive Committee of the NCAA –

On Feb. 3, 2006, the Tribune Wire Services reported that when Dr. Myles Brand was “asked why Fighting Irish is acceptable at Notre Dame but Fighting Sioux at North Dakota is not, Brand said, “We’ve never had any Irish people come to us and say, ‘We find that offensive.'”

Let this letter serve then as your official notice that some of the Irish (I am one) are indeed offended by a mascot dressed as an undignified leprechaun, flitting and prancing all around the football field or basketball court. Beyond that, we take particular offense with the moniker “Fighting Irish.” As an Irish-American Catholic and citizen of both the U.S. and the Republic of Ireland, I am truly insulted by these portrayals of my race, heritage, creed and culture.

The term “Fighting Irish” harkens back to the many past oppressions suffered by Irish Catholics, first in the Emerald Isle at the hands of British aggressors and then when Irish immigrants reached these U.S. shores. They experienced oppression and bigotry as they tried to assimilate into American culture. They not only felt extreme prejudice, but many were also victims at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and similar hateful groups.

If, as you, Mr. Brand, have also stated, “the NCAA objects to institutions using racial/ethnic/national origin references in their intercollegiate athletics programs,” then the NCAA should disallow Fighting Irish and their leprechaun mascot. By taking this stand against Notre Dame, the NCAA will demonstrate that “hostile and abusive” references will not just mean “hostile and abusive (with exemptions allowed),” but will truly attempt to meet its stated goal of no racial, ethnic or national origin references in their intercollegiate programs.

As a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, I find the NCAA’s current ambiguous stance incomprehensible and an anathema to all reasoned persons. If Florida State’s Chief Osceola is deemed to be “non-offensive,” then how can you possibly rationalize that Chief Illiniwek, for instance, is hostile? Logic dictates that if one Indian Chief is approved then all should be allowed.

At this point, the NCAA only appears to be undeniably hypocritical. Let’s correct that impression. It is unfathomable to think that “Fighting Sioux” is offensive and, somehow, in the eyes of the NCAA, that “Fighting Irish” is not.

Please do the right thing and either ban all references to racial/ethnic/national origins or just leave them all be.

Paul L. RichardsMarch 21