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Outside the Lines: Honor or Shame?

Here's the transcript from Show 50 of Outside The Lines - Honor or Shame?

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.

Guest: Roger Thomas, athletic director, University of North Dakota; David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College.
Coordinating producer: Jonathan Ebinger, ESPN.

Bob Ley, host - The battle has endured for years between school pride and ethnic heritage involving money and power.

Monique Vondall, UND student - It's about human rights. It's about a lot of wrongs that have been done.

Bill Isaacson, President, State Board of Higher Education for North Dakota - It's an honor to keep it, this group of people that say they want to keep it. And I guess I truly believe that. They're not using the name to be demeaning.

Ley - But it's turned a frozen campus into a hot bed of political activism.

Unidentified Female - We don't have the money. We don't have the power. We can't put on big shows for our side.

Alva Irwin, UND student - These big decision makers that make the decision for UND to keep that name, there is no Native Americans there.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines, hockey powerhouse North Dakota and the use of the name Fighting Sioux. Does it bring honor or shame?

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Joining us from ESPN studios, Bob Ley.

Ley - When the University of Illinois begins play this week in the NCAA basketball tournament, the Fighting Illini will be urged on by their traditional mascot Chief Illanawick despite the protests of 800 faculty members and a threat to disrupt recruiting over this issue.

Pick up the "Oregonian" newspaper or the "Minneapolis Star Tribune," leaf through the sports sections, because of editorial decisions by those papers, you will find no mention by name of the Indians nor the Redskins. Native American sports nicknames continue to be a sensitive and an emotional issue.

One thousand schools, including the universities, as prominent as Stanford and St. John's have forsaken American Indian nicknames over the past 30 years. An estimated 2,500 schools continue to use them. Supporters say such names honor Native Americans. Opponents say it is anything but. The conflict can result in brokered and tortured arrangements such at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where teams are still known as Indians, but the mascot has been changed to a bear. The bear is named Cherokee.

In North Dakota, where Indians literally fought for their survival, a native name is affixed to a team that brings this often-forgotten state great pride and national success. But the dispute over that name raises the question whether a university has sacrificed its obligation towards the state's largest minority group for a price.

Ley - Time rolls back just outside Grand Forks, North Dakota. One can easily imagine the time of Sitting Bull and the collision of cultures. The white man's manifest destiny brought commercial interest to his hard prairie, and that, too, has caused conflict.

The Fighting Sioux, the University of North Dakota, are the defending NCAA hockey champions.

Dean Blais, UND hockey coach - Even out in western Canada and the East Coast, people know the Fighting Sioux. They don't necessarily know even that we're from North Dakota, but they know Fighting Sioux.

Ley - And they know about the seven national titles, presidential honors and players such as NHL all-star Ed Belfour. Fighting Sioux games are routinely sold out, most of their fans as white as the ice.

Vondall - I will never take my child to a hockey game at this university because I don't want them to say, "Mommy, why is that man wearing a picture of my grandfather or my great grandfather on his shirt."

Ley - Others object to sexually graphic displays that demean American Indians.

Lucy Ganje, UND campus committee for human rights - It's an image of a stereotypical Indian performing oral sex on a buffalo.

Ley - It's doubtful that racial taunting was anticipated when North Dakota adopted the name Fighting Sioux 70 years ago.

Dave Vorland, UND University Relations - Not a great deal of attention was paid to Native Americans in this state in the '30s and I would say in the '40s. And that was simply the way it was.

Ley - But through the 1960s and '70s, as social awareness grew, so did complaints about the name. Over the past 30 years, there have been several headline grabbing incidents. Still, the majority of North Dakotans were puzzled by the objections to the Fighting Sioux name.

Rich Becker, UND alumnus - I mean, after all, one of the official names of the state of North Dakota is the Sioux State.

Ley - And even in the midst of this latest controversy, a university survey of alumnae and students showed a majority agree that the name honors the university and native people. But support from faculty and minority students, principally Indians, was reported to be much lower.

Charles Kupchella, UND President - What I've learned is the power of symbols, what they mean to people borders on astounding.

Ley - At first, university president Charles Kupchella announced last year he would decide whether the school kept the name. He convened meetings and appointed a committee, and he knew...

Kupchella - Somebody was going to be mad no matter which way it turned out.

Ley - His final decision...

Kupchella - I didn't get to make one.

Ley - Instead, in late December, the State Board Of High Education made the decision for him - a unanimous vote -- eight to nothing -- to keep the Fighting Sioux name.

Isaacson - It's the job of the board to protect him and to make sure that he succeeds. And our action to take the decision away or to actually have a vote at the board meeting basically protected him from having to make this decision and live with the consequences.

Ley - The board's surprise action drew national attention, including a cover story in "The Chronicle of Higher Education."

Kupchella - It wasn't a balanced piece at all. It went for the, I think, the core element of what makes this such a juicy story.

Ley - The board's decision to keep the name came one day after an angry letter from university alumnus and major benefactor, Ralph Engelstad. The former Fighting Sioux goaltender is a wealthy Las Vegas casino owner, whose name adorns the current North Dakota arena. Next year, the team expects to play in a state-of-the-art $85 million arena paid for by Engelstad, an arena described in his emotional letter to President Kupchella.

Kupchella - I'm not going to address the letter and the details of it.

Ley - Engelstad promised he would pull out his money, shut down construction of the arena if Kupchella dropped the Fighting Sioux name.

Kupchella - I didn't think it was a really good thing to have done.

Ley - Engelstad wrote, "If I walk away and abandon the project, I am sure that nature, through its cold weather, will completely destroy any portion of the building through frost that you might be able to salvage."

Becker - We, as a state, cannot turn a deaf ear to that. I mean, that would just be suicidal.

Isaacson - It was strictly coincidental that this letter from Ralph Engelstad surfaced the night before the regularly scheduled board meeting.

Kupchella - The board made a decision and so here we are.

Vondall - This is despicable.

Unidentified Female - I think the rest of the country sits back and looks at us and they cannot believe that this is happening in this part of the country.

Ley - Last month, in frigid weather, a small crowd of protesters staged a mock funeral of the new Engelstad arena. Organizers called it a day of mourning to observe the death, in their words, of justice, integrity and university independence.

Russell Means, Indian Rights Activist - I suggest that those of you connected with this university should transfer to Stanford or Dartmouth or St. John's or someplace where they've already changed their name decades ago. They had a higher sense of morality and humanity than this university, where just one Nazi has coerced and threatened them into hate speech.

Ley - The Nazi reference is not pure rhetoric. Engelstad was fined $1.5 million in 1989 by the Nevada Gaming Commission for embarrassing the casino industry with his Nazi memorabilia collection and practice of throwing parties on Hitler's birthday.

Ralph Engelstad, UND alumnus - Life is full of its ups and downs in business. And personally, I've experienced both.

Ley - Despite Engelstad's personal behavior, his point of view in favor of the fighting Sioux name does have support from some Native Americans.

Dave DeMontigny, UND student - I also have to uphold what the ancestors have done. I cannot slap them in the face by telling them they didn't know what they were doing when they gave this institution that name.

There's the old adage that if it hurts one person, change it. What if it gives one person pride? Don't we leave it?

Greg Holy Bull, UND student - This symbol is a great symbol, one of the greatest symbols that our ancestors had belief in acquiring and attaining.

Ley - But the symbol has caused a rift in Indian country.

Irwin - We're not the troublemakers. The troublemakers are the one that are fighting to keep the name.

Erik Enno, supports Sioux name - We can agree to disagree, and yet ban together and move forward.

Vondall - The only way that Erik and I are able to remain cousins is if we avoid the issue when we talk to each other.

Enno - I have not talked to Monique about this personally.

Ley - Protesters vow to return this fall to the new Engelstad arena for opening night. The coach of the Fighting Sioux can't wait for that evening.

Blais - It's going to be very sweet. That Indian head is going to be plastered all over.

Ley - And in a story full of veiled threats, the coach has a very public one.

Ley - Could you coach under any other name than Fighting Sioux?

Blais - I couldn't. I personally couldn't.

Ley - You couldn't coach?

Blais - No, I wouldn't.

Ganje - I have to believe that the hockey coach is a good man. I think that if he could hear the stories from the native students and their children, what they've suffered over the years, that he would see that it had to change, that it is not just about winning a game, it's about living a life.

Ley - Ralph Engelstad declined to be interviewed for this story. Last night on the current Engelstad arena, North Dakota defeated Minnesota Duluth 6-2 to tie their playoff series at a game each. The Fighting Sioux, regular season champions of the WCHA, are ranked third in the country.

Next, I'll be speaking with the athletic director at the University of North Dakota and the president of a Native American college about the use of the Sioux name.

Ley - The controversy over the name Fighting Sioux. I am joined this morning by Roger Thomas, the athletic director at the University of North Dakota. David Gipp is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, and he is president of the United Tribes Technical College, and he is in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Roger, let me begin with you. I think a fair question from outside the state is - What's going on out there?

Roger Thomas, Univ. of North Dakota Athletic Director - Well, it's quite a controversy. There's no question about that. And, you know, we at the university, especially athletic department wise -- are in the swirl or middle of that, and we're trying to find some resolution and listening to all opinions and all sides, because we've got people on campus that feel the same way -- or different ways and we have people out in the reservations, the Native Americans here that are on both sides of the issue. So it gets kind of complicated just trying to understand who's saying what and who's on what side of this.

Ley - David, is it a complicated issue?

David Gipp, President, United Tribes Technical College - I think it is. I think it is especially a very complicated issue, in particular because of the action by the State Board of Higher Education, who, I think, really usurped the president of the University of North Dakota's authority, if you will, and the dialogue and debate that was going on within the University of North Dakota. So I really think that actually in itself -- I even have questions about the ethics of the action, but really did serve to undercut this whole process. And while they say they've maybe taken a load of off President Kupchella, what they've really done is exacerbated this whole issue.

Ley - What do you mean the questions about the ethics of the action, David?

Gipp - Well, I think there are a couple of things involved here. One, the president, who was moving forward with a commission that was appointed by him to really look into this whole matter, to investigate it, to get all sides of the story and to really sit down and come up with some recommendations that the president could have used. Instead, the board, on December 21st, 2000 took action and endorsed the name really I think as a result of the pressure put on by them by Ralph Engelstad in the letter that was referred to earlier in this broadcast. So I really think that they suffer from a high degree of intimidation on this whole matter and that, really, I'm not sure that -- one of the questions really is how much do you accept philanthropy when it dictates what public policy ought to be at a public institution in this case. We're not talking about a private institution and we're not talking about private teams. We're talking about public policy at a public education facility.

Ley - Roger, do you accept Bill Isaacson's characterization of that letter as simply a coincidence before the eight-nothing vote?

Thomas - Well, let me go back. I served on that commission that David spoke of and listened to for weeks of testimony, if you want to call it, from people. We talked to other schools around the country that have the same name issue and gathered information. And the charge of the commission was to give the president information as to what he could do, not to make the decision, but to give him the information for the decision. I thought lots of good things came out of that. And in doing so, I personally talked to several members of the state board throughout all of that, and I know a lot of them were leaning to do what they did. And I guess it's going to be the debate of did that letter prior to the decision influence them one way or the other. I know for a fact a lot of them were feeling the way that they voted anyway regardless of the letter.

Ley - But it came the night before the meeting. And also, Roger, taking that $85 million for the arena, $100 million total over the years from a man whom we detailed in the program who has a history of at least a bit of a fascination with Adolph Hitler. What Is the appropriateness of that?

Thomas - Well, Mr. Engelstad has been a great benefactor to UND and many, many other causes. And to be labeled as such -- I don't know, that's certainly I think unfair a tie. I think he's -- at least I've talked to him, explained about what went on with all of that and some of that was not all of his doing. Some staff members and the rest...

Ley - At a party, for example, bumper stickers, "Hitler was right." Bartenders wearing shirts that said, "Hitler's European Tour, 1939 through '45." This was more than just an arm band in a closet for which Marge Schott was run out of Major League Baseball.

Thomas - Yeah, and I think he's obviously very regretful over all that stuff. And it happened quite a while ago. But I think the thing that everybody needs to remember is the great things that he has done and what he's trying to do. And he stands amongst many, many alums. If I told you the number of alumnae across the country, thousands of them that have responded about this issue who stand with the same opinion, certainly, he gets the headlines. But there's many, many other people who really feel strongly about keeping the name and having UND carry on with all of the programs that we have here for Native American students and probably do even more in the future. I would think that that's the route that I personally would like to go with our athletic department and so on is to stay positive and try to utilize where we're located, the students that are here and work with the future students that are in our state.

Ley - Now, David, I know you wanted to talk about that and we promise you the first word as soon as we get back from commercial as we continue.

Gipp - Sure.

Ley - I have to step aside for just a second with Roger Thomas and David Gipp. We are talking about the issue of the Fighting Sioux name, and we will continue this discussion in just a moment.

Ley - We continue with Roger Thomas and David Gipp on the issue of the Fighting Sioux name at the University of North Dakota.

David, I promised you a chance to respond. Go ahead.

Gipp - Yes. I just want to make a brief comment about the Engelstad and Board of Higher Education issue. First of all, I think you need to take a look at that letter. It was unfortunately very, very disdainful and disrespectful as I was concerned. And it's been aired publicly.

Second thing is that I think Mr. Engelstad's public record speaks for itself. I'm not going to indulge really on whatever his beliefs may be. I guess the critical issue here is where we're going with this kind of thing. The point is that the board has made the decision.

The real issue that we have to get back to is issues of well being and safety at the University of North Dakota campus. Second, the fact that the name and the motto present an image of racism and, unfortunately, induce a poor environment. And it is a reflection upon the university and upon really the state of North Dakota. It's an unfortunate misrepresentation that continues to be propagated really upon all of us throughout the state of North Dakota. When we talk about a state public institution, we're not talking about a private institution here. We're talking about the fact that we need to have appropriate kinds of considerations for all of the people there -- are there in this case at the University of North Dakota. We need to reduce a climate of strife and difficulty on that campus at this point in time.

I just want to also point out that the term Sioux is really a 19th century term that was used by the military, and its origins are probably of Chipwa and/or Jibawe and French derivations. It is not a word in the language of the tribe that is supposed to honor. It doesn't even exist in our vocabulary, in fact. The term for the -- the proper term for our people, if you will, who are labeled Sioux is really Lakota or Dakota or Nakota. And it means quite the opposite of what the Sioux derivative is, which is, apparently snake or enemy. That's the connotation of that terminology. The second part is that when we talk about who we really are, the Lakota or Dakota nation really means friend or ally. So we're quite the opposite of what this whole terminology is about. And we have to remember that this was used by the United States government in terms of its 19th century policies, really a colonial policy is what we're talking about.

Ley - Well, Roger, there are on your campus Native Americans who do support the name, and that's -- do you consider them an important part of presenting the proponents of the name that you have Native Americans in their midst?

Thomas - Most definitely. We've tried to emphasize that side. Athletically, we've had educational things. We brought a group in who's done a wonderful job in our community to talk to our student athletes. We have about 350 athletes here.

Ley - In fact, you've had demonstrations of native culture before athletic events, correct?

Thomas - Yes, we have. I think -- I guess...

Ley - But you were supposed to have one Friday night and it was called off before the first playoff game. I'm just curious why.

Thomas - Well, with playoff games and the league types of things, we just -- I don't know, we didn't think all of that was an appropriate time to do so. We've got some other NCAA things going on here on campus with our basketball team. So we...

Ley - Was there a concern about ratcheting up the emotions on this issue?

Thomas - Well, I think that's -- anytime you do that, because as David has said, you know, there's people that just don't agree with us doing anything in terms of trying to talk about the name in an educational sense, in a respectful sense. And I think the Native Americans that are for keeping the name have done a wonderful job of trying to educate people about the culture and the respect and so on. And personally, I hope we can continue to do so on campus and carry forward and do even more than what we're doing.

I was going to go back -- I was going to mention that they came and spoke to our student athletes. And I had a number of athletes come and tell me that was one of the best things we ever did to understand why the name, Sioux, is associated with the school and so on. And there are those -- I understand what David is saying -- they take pride in the name Sioux and the heritage that comes with it.

Ley - David, I know you'd like to respond in 20 seconds, please.

Gipp - I think it is very critical that the university and the president and the Board of Higher Education take some responsibility in all of this matter and begin to take a look at some of the incidents that are taking place on that campus right now. When we talk about threats, when we talk about racist kinds of behavior, racist signs that are ongoing right now as we speak -- I mean, only this past week and the week before, unfortunately, we saw some extremely bad racist graffiti that's been publicized and put out there in the public papers. And we also know of an incident that occurred just last week with a Native American Sioux who took a stand that really was, in fact...

Ley - It's obviously an emotional topic.

Gipp - And we need to look at these things.

Ley - Obviously an emotional topic. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Roger Thomas, David Gipp, thank you very much for spending this time with us this morning on the issue of the Fighting Sioux.

We continue on ESPN. We will tell you about an online enhancement to the OTL experience online as we continue.

Ley - Gary Sheffield and Frank Thomas looking to redo their contracts in the age of A-Rod money. Other stars seeking to up their ante. Well, our program last week generated amazement and exasperation to our e-mail inbox. A viewer from Cincinnati - "It amazes me that people making millions of dollars try to act like they're being disrespected, be it the amount or length of their contracts. Michael Jordan played for years making far less than he was worth because he signed a contract that he lived by. People respect that. I could go into work tomorrow and lose my job. And believe me, I do not make millions. It's time to play the game. There is no crying in baseball."

From South Carolina -"Until owners stop letting their egos right checks the league can't cash and until players publicly recognize who really gets hurt by their greed, the league is going to price itself right out of a fan base. Baseball is not bullet proof. If it wasn't the greatest game ever invented, people would have left it years ago, but they're not going to always continue to take the hit."

If you missed that show or any other Sunday morning Outside The Lines, you can watch it online at Type the keyword -- OTL Weekly -- and you're spirited to our library of transcripts and streaming video, and now a new message board. An Outside The Lines message board to post your public opinions and join discussions on our show. Your e-mail is always welcome, suggestions and criticisms as always. And our address. We look forward to getting your e-mails at Thanks for being in touch.

Log on tomorrow at 1 p.m. Eastern. Roger Thomas will join us for an online chat on the topic of this Fighting Sioux nickname. Follow the link from the front page at to ask your questions. That is tomorrow at 1 Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific at

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