The City Beat woke up this morning to the headline blaring across the front page with my Fighting Sioux nickname story under it. I’m starting to get embarrassed at how much play we give these stories and by we, I mean the Herald and WDAZ. Every twist, every turn, every twitch, me and Steve Bodakowski are there. Last night, WDAZ did the TV equivalent of the blaring headline by making the first, what, five minutes of the newscast all about the nickname.
I was already starting to feel this during one of the occasional feeding frenzies where I’d have something, and then WDAZ would have to have something the next night, and then I’d have to have something, and then they’d have to have something. One night, I was talking to a new acquaintance who said he or she, I forget who it was, recognized my name from the paper and that I write a lot of stories, but he or she never reads those nickname stories any more. I had to laugh, but I was kind of crying inside.
So I’m going to keep this as short as I can and encourage us to keep these stories off the front page unless it’s something really earth shattering.
Steve and I were in Minot yesterday because the State Board of Higher Education was holding a meeting in which Chancellor Bill Goetz would report on his meeting with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Charles W. Murphy. It’s clear from the SBHE’s tone in past meetings that they were this close to retiring the nickname and if Murphy didn’t say there would be a referendum in a month, the SBHE really would pull the trigger.
Except that lawsuit will keep their fingers off the trigger until sometime past the Dec. 9 hearing. If the lawsuit succeeds, they’ll have to wait until Nov. 30, 2010, the deadline in the settlement between the state and the NCAA.
Goetz told the board that, essentially, nothing was happening with the referendum at Standing Rock, and he implied that Murphy was beginning to oppose the nickname because it’s so "very, very divisive." Many nickname supporters actually thought Murphy supported the nickname.
So I pulled aside two board members from Grand Forks, Duiane Espegard and Grant Shaft, and asked them for their impression and it was the same as mine: There’s no movement, which pretty much means the Oct. 31 deadline by which some there should be some sign of movement probably ought to stand.
Then, I decided that, even though I never get a good interview from Chairman Murphy — he gives the impression of someone so busy with the business of government he can barely stop to talk — I better just try and pin him down on some particulars, one of which was: Did you really refuse to put a nickname referendum on the agenda? That would confound the expectations of nickname supporters.
The chairman said that’s not it at all. "It’s going to be the people that will do it. It’s not me." He then said something like "the administration locked it up with…" I asked him to elaborate and he kind of apologized, explaining that he knows where I’m coming from as a reporter but he couldn’t really talk much.
"I just don’t want to wreck anything that’s going on between the state and us," he said. I asked him to elaborate on that, but he didn’t want to either.
This is not the kind of thing a man involved in the sort of impasse the chancellor describe would say. In an impasse, there would be nothing between either side.
As I was writing the story, it dawned on me that this was really the tale of the hare and tortoise. When you’re the hare, the tortoise looks like he’s standing still. When you’re the tortoise, you know you’re going as fast as you can.
The SBHE is the hare. It wants this nickname thing wrapped up now and, according to Grant, probably no later than the end of the year because UND wants to, needs to apply to join the Summit League athletic conference, which won’t accept an application until after the nickname thing is settled. So anything that takes a longer than that, say the summer of 2010, is the same as no movement.
The Standing Rock tribe is the tortoise. There’s no doubt that this issue is divisive in some way on the reservation, though I suspect that it’s a lot more divisive on the council than it is among residents. That’s how it seemed at Spirit Lake. It doesn’t really matter because the council is the body that has to approve a referendum and it will take a lot of work on the part of nickname supporters to ensure they get authorization for a referendum. Those supporters are "the people" that Murphy was talking about.
Naturally, the lawsuit by Spirit Lake nickname supporters to delay and erase the SBHE deadline would give the Standing Rock supporters the time that they need.
So, my thinking is that it’s not that there’s no movement, the movement is just much slower than the SBHE would like. Since this is real life and not Aesop‘s, there is no moral to the story yet. There’s no assurance slow and steady will win.