Alleged racist chants draw UMD rebuke

DULUTH, Minn. -- The University of Minnesota-Duluth has scolded student fans of its hockey team after receiving reports they peppered the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux with offensive chants at a recent game.

Minnesota-Duluth Athletic Director Bob Nielson sent student season ticket-holders a letter Feb. 17 saying "any profane, racial, sexist, or abusive comments or actions directed at officials, opposing players or teams" could lead to their ejection from the arena or cost them their season tickets.

The Duluth News-Tribune reports students began chanting "smallpox blankets" and other phrases during the Feb. 10-11 series against North Dakota. The former refers to some historical claims that Indians were given smallpox-infected blankets by white settlers.

"I thought it was over the top," North Dakota fan Chad Czmowski said. "I'm all for rowdy cheering and rowdy student sections. Personal attacks, it was too much and there is no place for it."

Dave Zentner, a season ticket holder since 1955, said he didn't hear anything he considered to be offensive from the student section.

"I'm sure we've heard some dumb things over the years," he said. "I'm not sure if they were racist or bad sportsmanship. We've been road warriors and have been subjected to a lot of profanity and abuse in the league. I think overall, everybody has a few silly fans."

The reported chants followed North Dakota's return to using the Fighting Sioux nickname. The school has tried to drop the name, but supporters of the mascot recently gathered enough petition signatures to temporarily restore a state law that had required its use. The question will ultimately be put to state voters.

A University of North Dakota spokesman was not aware of Nielson's letter to students or any problems with chants at the weekend games and had no immediate comment.

In his letter to students, Nielson said the chants were hostile and racist.

"We decided it was an opportunity to reinforce our policy to focus on cheering for our team and avoid comments that are considered inappropriate," Nielson told the News-Tribune.

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