Dispute highlights North Dakota’s tough sell of new nickname
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — It’s been two years since the University of North Dakota unveiled its new Fighting Hawks logo that put it in good standing with the NCAA, but a familiar cheer at its hockey games shows what many students and alumni still think of the switch: “Let’s go Sioux!”
Administrators knew it would be a tough sell getting fans to let go of the Fighting Sioux nickname deemed offensive by the NCAA and a local American Indian tribe. But emails between the university’s president and one of its biggest benefactors show just how difficult it continues to be.
The emails between school president Mark Kennedy and Engelstad Family Foundation trustee Kris Engelstad McGarry, whose late father donated money for a $110 million hockey arena, reveal Kennedy’s frustration over the foundation’s resistance to a plan to feature the green and white Fighting Hawks logo at center court in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, where UND’s basketball and volleyball teams play. The foundation would prefer just the words “North Dakota” instead.
McGarry told The Associated Press that the foundation only opposes featuring the Fighting Hawks emblem at center court because it believes there are longtime fans and supporters who “do not identify with Fighting Hawks as the Hawks’ presence has been” since the logo was unveiled.
“So as to not alienate that side, we elected to put Fighting Hawks on the side of the court and to put the University of North Dakota logo on the center court,” McGarry said. “We believe that the community should make their own decisions and that the change should happen more organically, over time, rather than have it pushed.”
The issue burst into public view earlier this month when McGarry told the Grand Forks Herald editorial board that Kennedy had been “very passive aggressive” and “quite hostile at times” in discussions about the university’s operating agreement with the foundation and said it could lead to fewer donations. McGarry recently backed out of a $14 million pledge to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas medical school over a leadership change.
Kennedy declined an interview request. University spokesman Peter Johnson said in a statement that the school hopes to reach a “mutually beneficial” agreement.
Ralph Engelstad, a Minnesota native who played goaltender for UND before building a fortune as a real estate mogul and Las Vegas casino and hotel owner, was vehemently opposed to dropping the Fighting Sioux nickname, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe refused to endorse. At one point, Engelstad threatened to stop construction of the hockey arena if it was discontinued.
McGarry said her spat with Kennedy isn’t tied to the Fighting Sioux logo and that her family doesn’t share her father’s passionate views about the nickname.
The Ralph Engelstad Arena is currently owned and operated independently from the school and won’t be turned over to UND control until 2030. Under that 2000 agreement, the arena manager is tasked with running the facility “in a manner that best serves UND’s needs” and cooperating with school representatives in “furthering the interests” of the college. School officials say placing the Fighting Hawks logo at center court would do just that, by promoting the name and helping the sale of merchandise.
The Engelstad Family Foundation was created in 2002, the year Ralph Engelstad died. The nonprofit has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various causes in several states, focusing on education, health care and childhood issues. Besides donating money for the sports facilities, the Engelstad family has given a $20 million endowment and numerous other donations to UND, including papers of Gen. George S. Patton and portraits of U.S. Supreme Court Justices valued at nearly $127.5 million.
Kennedy also wants to update the operating agreement for the arenas, including revenue sharing. University figures show the school received less than half of the roughly $8 million profit generated by hockey, basketball, football and volleyball between 2010 and 2017.
Erik Hanson, who is set to take over as student body president, said he grew up in Grand Forks as a Fighting Sioux fan. But he said brand identity is important and the Fighting Hawks should be displayed now.
“At this point, I have to look out for the next generation of students and the students of today,” he said. “All of the student-athletes who are going to play in that arena have been Fighting Hawks from the day they stepped on campus.”
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