News began to trickle out of the University of Illinois late last week that the University administration had chosen to ban the oft heard ‘War Chant’ from all Illinois athletic events.
Reaction was mixed. Some fans stated the move should have been made long ago.
Today, amid the reactions, Athletic Director Josh Whitman penned a thoughtful, intelligent, and well-versed letter to fans regarding the removal of ‘War Chant’.
Whitman opens with a statement that he is one of ‘us’ — a fan.
“I am one of you. To my pleasant surprise, this fact has resonated with our fans and alumni more than anything else in my early tenure as your athletics director. I know because you have told me so, in countless conversations at games and events all across this country.”
I don’t believe that Josh Whitman comes to decisions like this lightly. I believe that everything he does, has done, and will do for the University of Illinois Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is well thought out and properly vetted.
One paragraph that stands out amidst the letter and fan reaction is the following.
Because I am one of you, on a personal level, I share part of your sadness with our recent decision to discontinue playing War Chant at our athletic events. Like many of you, I have fond memories of watching Chief Illiniwek perform, and War Chant was, to a large degree, the soundtrack of my football career. For me, both events evoked feelings of pride, unity, and confidence. As a younger man, I assumed the thousands of people around me experienced similar emotions – and, in fact, I think many did.
These are the words of a man who does not come to decisions lightly or in haste. Whitman recognizes that, at the time, many of the traditions of Illinois Athletics were more accepted in the community, in the state, and in the country. He acknowledges, however, that as times change, so must the views of the University of Illinois and its administration.
He admits that, “regardless of whether you agree with these sentiments, at a minimum, we must acknowledge that these feelings matter. How we make people feel matters here at the University of Illinois, where we strive to be a beacon for inclusion in an increasingly polarized world.” This move was not just about the music played at a football or basketball game, but about how it invoked feelings in those around us.
Before you tweet angry things at Whitman, realize all of this, just as he has recognized. Just because there was nothing wrong with something years ago does not mean that it is still culturally acceptable today.
The most important takeaway: you can have enjoyed this tradition in the past while recognizing its issues today. Both of these can be true. https://t.co/F7VfVmsopo— fishangelous (@fishangelous) August 28, 2017
This tweet sums up how many feel in the Illini community. Just because you enjoyed it does not mean you can not look at a situation and see the issues with it today.
If nothing else, the letter by Josh Whitman today should be a lesson of reassurance for fans. Whitman sees the big picture, and he will do whatever it takes to lead this athletic department back to national prominence, even if that means doing what is unpopular sometimes.