Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman speaks out on the end of the ‘War Chant’

CHAMPAIGN, IL - SEPTEMBER 10: Illinois Fighting Illini Director of Athletics Josh Whitman is seen during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN – It was a decision to end a traditional song at athletic events that brought out a number of strong opinions on both side of the Illinois fan base this weekend.

On Tuesday, the leader of the Fighting Illini athletic department gave his thoughts on the university’s decision to stop playing the “War Chant” at games.

A link to an open letter from Josh Whitman was posted on the athletic department’s Twitter account late Monday afternoon. Within its contents, Whitman says that he, like some Illini fans, enjoyed the “War Chant” being played at games but a further look showed that it would be best to stop using it for contests starting with the 2017-2018 year.

“I share part of your sadness with our recent decision to discontinue playing War Chant at our athletic events.  Like many of you, I have fond memories of watching Chief Illiniwek perform, and War Chant was, to a large degree, the soundtrack of my football career,” said Whitman in the letter. “For me, both events evoked feelings of pride, unity, and confidence.  As a younger man, I assumed the thousands of people around me experienced similar emotions – and, in fact, I think many did.

“Today, I understand that my emotions were not shared by many connected to our University.  And as I have spent more time around these issues, my feelings have evolved.  For some, Fighting Illini Athletics has been a source of division, not unity.  Segments of our University have felt unwelcome at our athletic events.  Regardless of whether you agree with these sentiments, at a minimum, we must acknowledge that these feelings matter.  How we make people feel matters here at the University of Illinois, where we strive to be a beacon for inclusion in an increasingly polarized world.”

Whitman said the decision to stop playing the “War Chant” was made in the spring with the Chancellor’s office, Marching Illini along with the school’s Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. Repeated often in the letter was the desire for unity among the university and it’s fans, which was ultimately the reason for the end of the song.

“For me personally, and for our University at large, it would have been far easier to maintain the status quo,” said Whitman in the letter. “But leading is not always about doing what is easy.”