Sen. Mac Schneider, D-N.D., said Monday that a bill that would prohibit the University of North Dakota from retiring its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo “tests our loyalties” and could remove a “competitive advantage” if UND’s athletic teams were no longer allowed to host home playoff games.
He made the remarks during a Senate Education Committee hearing on House Bill 1263, which states UND athletic teams shall be known as the Fighting Sioux and would prohibit UND or the State Board of Higher Education from discontinuing the use of the nickname or logo. To read the full text of HB 1263, click here.
On Feb. 21, the House voted 65-28 to approve HB 1263 and sent the bill to the Senate. Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, told the AP last week that he thinks the legislation will “probably pass” the Senate.
Here’s the full transcript of Schneider’s testimony to the Senate Education Committee:
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Mac Schneider and I represent District 42 in the North Dakota Senate. It is with a very heavy heart that I testify against House Bill 1263.
My district includes the University of North Dakota and all that comes with it: World-class educators, cutting-edge research, and some of the brightest young minds in our state. District 42 is also home to Ralph Engelstad Arena, Memorial Stadium, and â€“ I am proud to say â€“ a host of championship banners won by UND student athletes over the decades.
Not all that long ago, Mr. Chairman, I was one of those student athletes. I certainly will not claim to have been a star, and I will do my best to spare the members of this committee a long and nostalgic soliloquy. But I was lucky enough to play on some great teams. As a result, some of the most thrilling and memorable experiences in my life happened while I was wearing a Fighting Sioux football jersey.
We lifted the Nickel Trophy after beating the Bison in front of a packed crowd in my hometown of Fargo. I exchanged bear hugs with my teammates, parents, and the woman who would one day become my wife on a soggy field in Florence, Alabama after we won the national championship. And I also remember the very first game I was called on to play in as a starter. It was against the top-ranked team in the country at the time, and in the third quarter I broke my fibula and displaced my ankle. Lying in the back of my parentsâ€™ minivan in the parking lot of Memorial Stadium that October day just before they took me to the hospital for x-rays and surgery the next morning, I heard that familiar voice announce over the public address system: â€œFirst down Fighting Sioux.â€
Mr. Chairman, people have different opinions regarding the nickname and logo. For me, Iâ€™m tremendously proud to say I played for the Sioux.
But the duty of the Senate in assessing House Bill 1263 is not to determine whether we like the name. It is not to â€œsend a messageâ€ or ruminate over numerous scenarios under which this entire situation could have been avoided. The only consideration before us is this: Given the reality that we face, what is in the best interests of the University of North Dakota and, in particular, its student athletes?
There are consequences to passing House Bill 1263 â€“ severe ones. I want this committee to remember that the negative impact of this bill will be born exclusively by the young men and women who wear the jersey. The committee is obviously aware of the NCAAâ€™s policy which sanctions the use of Native American names and imagery. Harshest amongst these sanctions is the prohibition on hosting NCAA championship events, and for the sake of time I will limit my remarks to this topic alone.
Mr. Chairman, our athletes compete to win championships at the University of North Dakota. That is the point. Having home field advantage is something that unquestionably increases the chances of winning a championship. If House Bill 1263 passes, however, UND will never again host a home football playoff game in the Alerus Center or a home playoff game in any other sport.
A few examples may help to demonstrate the tremendous competitive disadvantage our student athletes would be subjected to under this bill. Before winning the national championship in 2001, we had three home playoff games at an Alerus Center that was packed to the rafters with wildly screaming fans. Those fans were yelling at opposing offenses, not ours, and I am not sure that we would have been national champs if we had to go on the road for those three games.
More recently, Eastern Washington, a member of the Big Sky conference of which UND is now a part, played three home games before winning last yearâ€™s Division I-AA football championship. Notably, one of those home games was against North Dakota State University, with the Eagles beating the Bison in overtime after marching 90 yards and converting two fourth downs in 2 minutes, 29 seconds to tie the game during regulation. I can virtually guarantee you that the result would have been different in the Fargodome.
Mr. Chairman, the thought of politicians taking away a competitive advantage â€“ any competitive advantage â€“ that is earned by our student athletes through their hard work and skill makes my stomach turn. Legislators should not be standing between our teams and a chance at a championship.
Yet, there are Legislators and fans who say that the majority of people want to keep this name. True enough, all things being equal. I count myself among them. But I also believe that a majority of Sioux fans and my constituents, when considering the reality of our situation, are not willing to sacrifice our student athletesâ€™ chances at future success for the sake of this legislation.
This misguided bill tests our loyalties. We should ask ourselves specifically what we are loyal to. Is it just to the proud name and logo on the jersey, and those things alone? Or is it to the student athletes who wear that jersey? To ask that question is to answer it, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for your consideration.