Sunday, November 30, 2008

Curse Of The Eagle? EMU Should Be The Hurons Again

Gretchen Borst and George Hanner meant no harm, I promise you.

They were the two students who, way back in 1929, entered a contest to determine the nickname of Michigan State Normal College. Today you may know that school as Eastern Michigan University – that is, if you can see it through the shadow of that other institution seven miles west on Washtenaw Avenue: something called the University of Michigan.

So Gretchen and George enter this contest, see, and the contest is run by a three-man panel, and on October 31, 1929, the panel announced its winner: Michigan State Normal College would forever have as its school nickname (drum roll please), the Hurons.

This selection drips with irony upon closer inspection, because Hanner worked at the Huron Hotel at the time. No doubt that had as much influence over his suggestion, if not more, than the fact that the school lie on the banks of the Huron River, or that the Huron Indian tribe once roamed southeastern Michigan.

Forever lasted approximately 62 years, turns out.

First, you should know that the author is a proud alumnus of EMU, having graduated in the latter part of that 62-year Huron reign. And you should also know that he is still ticked off about the absconding of the nickname “Hurons” in exchange for the decidedly more mundane, lame “Eagles”, which occurred in 1991.

I’ll stop referring to myself in the second person. It’s me who’s the proud alumnus. Me who is still ticked. I’m a Huron, always will be, and I’m not alone.

EMU has had it rough over the past year or so. There was the infamous Laura Dickinson controversy of 2007, which led to the ziggy for the school president due to some less than forthright ways information was disseminated in the tragic death of Dickinson, an EMU student who was found dead in her dorm room in December 2006. No foul play, school administrators, led by president John Fallon, declared. Uh-uh. No way, no how.

Months later, it was revealed: the play was the foulest – rape and murder had gone on in Laura’s room. And you know when her parents and family found out the truth? About the same time the rest of the public did. Fallon and his minions knew that there was strong evidence that suggested Laura was murdered, yet chose to keep it to themselves, like some nasty family secret.

I would have liked my size 10s to be among those kicking Fallon in the ass on his way out the door.

On the far less important side of things, the sports in Ypsilanti have been foul, too.

The mens basketball program still can’t find its footing. And the football team? Only Pepe LePew could love them.

EMU just canned another football coach. Jeff Genyk got the ziggy on Monday after five miserable seasons. Genyk was yet another who could do absolutely nothing with Eastern’s football program. His was a tenure filled with the typical records at EMU: 2-9, 3-8, an occasional 1-10.

Funny, but ever since EMU’s Board of Regents foolishly voted to change the nickname to the Eagles, the football team, especially, has been grounded. One (1) winning season since ’91 – and that was just 6-5, in 1995. Eagles with clipped wings, apparently.

As I said, I’m not alone in my outrage. It’s been over 17 years, and I still can’t get past it. Other alumni, many others, feel the same way. Some of the more belligerent (and wealthy) ones have told the school that there will be no more donations forthcoming until EMU is once again known as the Hurons.

The Regents caved to pressure and ordered Hurons dropped as part of an NCAA-wide push to eliminate as many nicknames as possible that supposedly fueled racial stereotypes. It was a broad-stroked brush that the NCAA, as usual, used. They failed to take into consideration the dignity with which some of those “offensive” nicknames carried.

The Huron logo was anything but cartoonish or offensive. It was the profile of a very proud-looking Native American. Even the word “Huron” couldn’t be considered offensive, because it was simply the name of the tribe. We’re not talking Redskins here.

Yet the Regents caved anyway, and if it wasn’t bad enough that Hurons had to go, the choice of Eagles to replace it was a double whammy.

Eagles? You mean the nickname used by countless high schools across the country, and dozens of other colleges?

Not only that, but Eagles was chosen as the result of another one of those contests, like the one Gretchen Borst and George Hanner entered in 1929. So they have a contest, get hundreds of entries, and choose … Eagles? If there’s a punch line here, I’m still waiting for it.

There’s politically correct, and there’s being stupid.

I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that EMU alienated way more people than they satisfied when they switched from Hurons to Eagles. Lord knows how much money they’ve lost out on, to boot.

There are precious few supporters of the decision, but the ones who are point out that the diploma says Eastern Michigan University. The logic says that it shouldn’t matter what comes after that – it’s still the same school, whether that school goes by Hurons or Eagles.

Nice try, but I’m not buying it. Nicknames are part of school pride. And EMU, I thought, had one of the more unique ones in the country. And the facts back that up.

But there’s hope. A group called Huron Restoration continues to try to bring back the name, and claims to have the support of Chief Leaford Bearskin of the Wyandot Tribe of Oklahoma and former Grand Chief Max Gros-Louis of the Huron-Wendat Nation of Quebec.

It’s not too late to get this right, after all. Hurons, unite!


baroque said...

This is one of the (many) stupid college things that make me furious. All too often, the only things associated with the names of Native American peoples are alcoholism, poverty, welfare, and casinos. Some tribes are flattered and honored to be associated with institutions of higher education, especially if as in many cases the name is carried with pride, athletes show up on reservations of the tribe to talk to the kids about college, and there is nothing demeaning about the nickname. It reeks of "the white man knows best about these things" attitude - paternalistic and patronizing.

I've always thought this kind of issue should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Toss the demeaning nicknames that have been traditionally used as insults.

Talk with the tribe represented by the nickname (most often it's local, so this shouldn't be a problem).

If they don't like the school's use of their tribal name, it is up to the school to make the situation right, either by getting rid of a cartoon image, or, if the tribe itself asks, change the name.

If the school is happy and the tribe isn't insulted, then the arrogant suits should butt out.

(There was actually some talk several years ago about Central Michigan University dumping the Chippewa nickname, but the tribe has an enormous casino and the financial resources to point out that they enjoyed being associated with an institute of higher learning, and if they didn't share a name they might be less inclined to spread around some of the casino profits in the area. That nonsense stopped pretty quickly.) :)

Alan M said...

Add me to that alumni list... The list of alumni who doesn't like the name change only... Not the list who doesn't like the name change and are with holding donations... I'm still donating exactly what I was donating before ~grin~

Anonymous said...

I am a friend of a Hall of fame EMU football player. When the Do-Gooder s for the sake of political correctness took away his history that he paid for with blood sweat and tears, (trust me the man has scars and arthritic pain most likely from football.) It crushed and embarrassed him. Ironically, I was going to go to EMU because of him and his reverence for EMU. It gave EMU an inside track to my heart. But after seeing EMU slap him in the face, there was no way in hell I was going to slap him face too by going to EMU. No one can ever undue the evil done to the American Indian. But what is done is done. Changing the Indian name to right this catastrophic wrong is like putting a band aid on a cancer victim and saying “all better now.” I remember when my friend said he got a scholarship to play for the EMU Huron’s I scratched my head and said what the heck is a Huron? I looked it up at the library, and learned something about Native Americans because of the unique EMU name. The EMU Football program is as always in a tough spot in 2008. Too close to the U of M with countless fans, and a loving TV audience and gobs and gobs of POLITACALLY CORRECT people’s dollars spent for their football program. The uniqueness of the Huron name, gave it character, charm, loyalty and yes tradition. EMU only hope of survival is developing and continuing tradition and loyalty. Let’s compromise, how about renaming the team after LAKE HURON, the symbol can be a green and white wave, or will Aqua man give us a hard time? Send that swoop the eagle back to Miami of Ohio, Eastern Washington, Emory, Utah Ute’s; they can have his bird keyster. Besides if we are going to PUNISH all of us evil white people for racist names, then perhaps we should call EMU the Eastern Michigan Caucasians! It will teach us whites about racism. I am sure every white person in America will be shocked and outraged, and burn EMU to the ground!

EMU_92 said...

HURONS with the reverent Native American silhouette! No way do I want to compromised with a Lake. Nice thought to be nice, but NO. I was one of the unfortunate students who was FORCED to change their nickname. Regents be damned! I moved to California and didn't graduate from EMU, but I will always be a Huron. Don't forget representatives from those Huron tribes were locked out of final discussion on keeping the Huron name. So many changes were made by this school's administration for the sake of trying to compete with U of M. EMU wasn't founded for or by athletes. It was founded by educators. All they were after was a fresh angle for month to build an athletic program.