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June 19, 2012

My home state has been embroiled in a fight over the name of university sports teams, but I have a solution that reaches back to a great pioneering feminist and, perhaps, could change the future equality of sports and other endeavors in college.

I grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was virtually a given that I would attend the University of North Dakota (UND), as did my parents and all of my five siblings. The University of North Dakota is on a beautiful little campus made up of ivy-covered buildings in the heart of Grand Forks, and I graduated in 1976 from the College of Fine Arts with a concentration in acting and directing. In classic Midwestern tradition, it was a nice university in a nice town filled with nice people.

Sometime back, some of those nice people decided that the slogan and logo for the UND sports teams were not nice. The logo was the profile of a proud Indian warrior and the university sports teams were called the "Fighting Sioux." The move toward greater respect for the Native American community made many nice people feel that this was not an appropriate name and symbol to use. They decided to push to have it changed.

What resulted was something like a civil war. The university board and president, the Sioux Indian tribes and even the North Dakota legislature were drawn into the disagreement, sometimes pitting brother against sister, father against son. The drama outdid even the most nail-biting homecoming game; the moniker and logo were on again and off again, and on again and off again, with decisions by the university board being trumped by the decisions of the North Dakota Sioux Indian tribes being trumped by a vote by the state legislature.

My stepdad, a booster for keeping the Sioux logo and a well-respected lawyer who had been a star athlete for the Fighting Sioux in the 1940s, was so involved with the struggle that he put aside time with friends and family to do free legal work for the cause. With a June 12, 2012 statewide ballot measure in North Dakota, resulting in a two-thirds majority in favor of dumping the Sioux name and logo, it appears that the will of the people will finally put the issue to rest.

A cooling-off period has been set which prevents the university from adopting a new nickname and logo until 2015. On the surface this "healing period" may seem like a good idea, but it does present a certain problem. How do you cheer your team to victory if the team has no name I have come up with an idea which possibly could appeal to both sides and ultimately be a very good thing for all concerned.

I think the slogan of the "Fighting Sioux" could be changed to the "Fighting Sue." The logo could be a profile of the legendary champion of women's rights, Susan B. Anthony. This has distinct advantages for everyone. The fans and cheerleader chants could remain the same as they have been for years. This idea also appeals to the frugal nature of the people from the state of North Dakota. The current profile of the Sioux warrior could be converted to the likeness of Susan B. Anthony by simply covering over the feathers and painting on a high Victorian neckline and a tight bun. The hurrahs for Susan B. Anthony might bring new attention to her suffrage work at a time of backlash against women and make up for the sad -- and early -- demise of the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin.

By naming the team after Susan B. Anthony, the university could implement a new policy that would be a template for schools around the nation -- a commitment to spend money fairly. For every dollar spent on men's athletics, a dollar would be spent on women's athletics. The school would become a beacon of fairness, and with these new revenues for women's sports, would be able to attract top women athletes from around the world. The school already has a world class hockey facility, but could easily groom future stars in women's tennis, swimming, soccer, track and field, football, baseball, basketball and more.

If this program proved to be as successful as I think is possible, there might even be a push toward the radical idea of funding the arts departments at the same level as the sports departments. Then the terribly out-of-date Burtness Theatre on campus could be replaced with a new facility. State-of-the-art rehearsal and dance studios could be built, studio and gallery spaces could be expanded, always with the idea of treating male and female students with equal attention and funding.

Susan B. Anthony never lived to see the day when her lifelong struggle for womens right to vote came to pass. I only hope that I live to see the day when the "Fighting Sue," and all that the name stands for and implies, can become a reality. In the words of my 91-year-old mother, "That would be nice."