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OUR OPINION: Kelley’s right to reject a logo ban

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opinion Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks Herald
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“Well, as you know, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far.” So says British Army Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning in the movie “A Bridge Too Far,” commenting on Operation Market Garden’s failure to capture the entire string of bridges that the World War II plan needed to succeed.

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And ever since the movie (and the book that inspired it), the term has been used to refer to an act of overreaching.

Which is why it comes to mind today, as the effort to ban the Fighting Sioux logo from the UND campus strikes us as a bridge too far.

UND no longer uses either the logo or the Fighting Sioux nickname to represent its teams. That “reality on the ground” represents a near-complete victory for those who oppose the nickname, a stunning reversal of the situation of only a few years ago.

But the opponents’ triumph is “near-complete” — not fully complete. It has removed the symbols from official use, but it has not banned them from campus or from unofficial use.

Nor has the victory succeeded in adding the logo and nickname to American culture’s “forbidden symbols” — the words and symbols considered so incendiary that using one sets off a firestorm of media reactions.

Those goals remain the “bridge too far,” and there’s no sign that the situation is going to change. Perhaps nickname opponents even should consider abandoning the goals, because pursuing them too avidly seems sure to renew a bitter and divisive struggle with little chance of further gain.

A word about the difference between the “Siouxper Drunk” T-shirt of Springfest fame and the Fighting Sioux logo: The word is majority.

A majority — a supermajority, really — of observers believed the T-shirt to have been so crass and insensitive that it fell easily into the “forbidden symbols” category. That’s why the social-media and traditional-media reactions spread around the world, exactly as happened last year when a few local high school students put on (and quickly removed) Klan hoods:

In America, the cruel and tragic history of such symbols has rendered them off-limits. For good.

But that same thing hasn’t happened with the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, despite decades of argument on anti-nickname activists’ part. Why?

The answer to that question is the history of the nickname debate. One side declared the name is offensive and marshaled evidence in support. The other side responded with “No, it isn’t,” and a body of evidence of their own (including a crucial vote by the Spirit Lake Tribe).

The matter was settled only because the NCAA threw its weight on the opponents’ side. And as a result, UND (and the State Board of Higher Education, the Legislature and the governor) had to yield.

But the NCAA’s ruling didn’t change hearts and minds. So, Fighting Sioux sweatshirts still are common on campus — and to UND President Robert Kelley’s credit, he’s not going to crack down on that, he said last week, having recognized that heavy-handed censorship of still-popular items would create more problems than it would solve.

Another movie quote suggests a way forward. At the end of “The Sting,” Gondorff (Paul Newman) tells Hooker (Robert Redford) that their con worked; their mob-boss mark had been stung out of millions.

“It’s not enough,” Hooker snaps.

Then he chuckles. “But it’s close.”

For nickname opponents, seeing UND stop calling itself the Fighting Sioux might not be enough. But it’s close — or at least, it ought to be very close indeed, given the landmark and historic nature of the change.

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Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276
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