Wisconsin Diversifies: The saga of the Mountaineer

By Dave Kopel

National Review Online. September 5, 2002 9:20 a.m.

The University of Wisconsin has demonstrated that it is not inclined to celebrate diversity, practice tolerance, or remember its own history. But it is capable of feeling embarrassment.

The Wisconsin football team plays the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday. Ever since 1936, West Virginia athletic teams have been accompanied by a student who is chosen as the "Mountaineer."

He  or she wears a tailored buckskin outfit and coonskin cap. The Mountaineer traditionally fires a musket before the game begins, and whenever West Virginia scores; the musket contains only powder, and no ammunition. It is no more dangerous than a starter's pistol.

On Tuesday, the peckish administration at Wisconsin not only forbade the Mountaineer to fire a gun; the Mountaineer was forbidden even to bring the musket into Camp Randall Stadium. Supposedly, the school was enforcing a policy against weapons in the stadium, although the athletic department explained that the gun would have been barred even if there were no general policy on weapons.

Ironically, Wisconsin's stadium is located in a city named after James Madison, the author of the Second Amendment.

Even more ironically, Camp Randall Stadium is named for a Union Army training camp from the Civil War. At the urging of Civil War veterans, the State of Wisconsin gave the university the Camp Randall site in 1893 for an athletic facility to be used a war memorial.

"We don't need a gun going off in front of 80,000 people," insisted Wisconsin associate athletic director Jamie Pollard. Was Pollard afraid that the Wisconsin fans will panic when they see a gun fired?

The administrators shouldn't have worried so much, for the people of Wisconsin are not nearly as terrified of guns as is the Wisconsin administration. In 1998, the voters of Wisconsin added a right to arms to the state constitution by a vote of 1,161,942 to 412,508. The Wisconsin provision guarantees: "The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose."

The Civil War veterans of Wisconsin would likely be dismayed to find that their old training camp is under the thumb of bureaucrats who can't bear the sight of a ceremonial musket on the very site where soldiers trained to fight for freedom; the veterans might be further dismayed by bureaucrats' readiness to insult the well-armed people of West Virginia — whose ancestors fought and bled and died alongside the Wisconsin regiments. (Wisconsin men who trained at Camp Randall joined with West Virginian mountaineers at Second Bull Run, Antietam and Gettysburg.)

West Virginia University, though, maintains a more solid connection with its home state's history and tradition. One of the college's most successful teams is the rifle team, with a record of 115-3 under the last eleven years of coach Marsha Beasley. The four women and seven men on this year's WVU team are part of a school heritage that had produced numerous Olympians and national champions.

Interestingly, while the University of Wisconsin is obsessed with "diversity," the school fails to field a rifle team, even though riflery is almost the only varsity collegiate sport in which men and women compete on equal terms.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the University of Wisconsin administration, apparently realizing that its hoplophobia was making the school into a national laughingstock among sports fans, relented, and announced that the Mountaineer can carry and fire his musket.

The administration's sensible decision reduces the prospects that Wisconsin will win this year's title as the most politically correct college. The decision was a victory for good sportsmanship — which certainly includes having some respect for the customs of one's guests.

Currently, the University of Wisconsin administration officially thinks of "diversity" only in terms of "American Indian, African-American, Latino/a, and Southeast Asian-American" plus "women in some fields; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons; and disabled persons."

Perhaps the Mountaineer incident will help the administration begin to understand that "diversity" also includes people who do diverse things — such as the approximately 50 percent of the American population which participates in America's culture of responsible firearms use and ownership.

Dave Kopel is an NRO contributing editor.

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