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UW-EC provides more information regarding racist messages

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt provided more information Thursday regarding the suspension of five student athletes from the university’s football team in connection with racist Snapchat messages, which included references to the Black Male Empowerment group on campus.

UW-Eau Claire Dean of Students LaRue Pierce and his office are investigating the incident. The investigation remains open, but Schmidt expects it will conclude soon. In addition to suspension from the football team, Schmidt said “additional, appropriate sanctions may result, pending the outcomes of the investigation.”

Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, said Wednesday the university cannot identify the suspended students because an investigation is ongoing.

The messages in the Snapchat string included a picture of a cross burning at a Ku Klux Klan event. “For all who can’t make the BME meeting, (name deleted) and I are holding WME tonight at 7,” a message reads, referencing a non-existent White Male Empowerment group.

“I’ll be there but I’ll be like 5 minutes late. Think the cross will still be burning? Don’t wanna miss that again,” said another message.

“Yeah we don’t do it till 10 minutes in. That pic is from last weeks meeting,” replied a message referencing the burning cross.

Schmidt released a statement Thursday afternoon condemning the messages and providing updates on the investigation and plans going forward.

“This is a dark time for our university,” Schmidt wrote. “This incident has left our campus shocked, saddened and, for some, scared … Let me begin by apologizing for not sending this message sooner. I had hoped to send it yesterday, but I wanted to make sure I had accurate information to share with you; I simply ran out of time. For that, I am sorry.”

Schmidt, who met Wednesday evening with BME members, called the messages despicable and disgusting.

“The use of an image of a burning cross at an apparent Ku Klux Klan rally is especially disturbing,” Schmidt wrote. “It is an image that conjures memories of some of the worst atrocities committed against people of color, especially African Americans, in our recent national history. Some of our students, faculty and staff of color likely have had family members who were targeted by such Klan actions. For them, this is personal and visceral. Regardless of intent, the very real impact of the social media posts was that they negatively targeted a specific group of UW-Eau Claire students.”

UW-Eau Claire senior and BME President Lewis Balom called for the university to take “long-term action” as a result of the incident.

“I want to see action that’s going to make change,” Balom said, adding that suspending athletes from the football team amounts to “a slap on the wrist.”

BME began in February 2017 and has around a dozen members, many of whom are current or former Blugold football players. The group held an informational session Wednesday evening with hopes of increasing its numbers. Balom and BME Vice President Jalen Thomas were both encouraged by the turnout Wednesday.

In the statement, Schmidt also provided updates on activity taken by university officials since Tuesday afternoon in response to the Snapchat messages.

UW-Eau Claire athletic director Dan Schumacher immediately suspended all social media groups involving university athletic teams were “until and unless they are being monitored by coaches and other athletics staff members.”

Schumacher and football head coach Wesley Beschorner held an emergency meeting with the football team “to discuss the incident, and to make clear this kind of racist behavior is not acceptable for any Blugold who represents UW-Eau Claire while wearing our university uniform.”

Dang Yang, director of the university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, and his staff reached out to students of color to offer resources and support. OMA employees and Demetrius Smith, the university’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion program director, met privately with students Thursday evening.

Schmidt encouraged all university members “to continue to report racist or hate incidents to our Bias/Hate Incident Response Team.”

On Thursday afternoon, UW-Eau Claire Counseling Services tweeted a statement offering support and listing drop-in hours at the OMA office in Centennial Hall.

“Counseling Services is aware that many students have been impacted by an online thread that included racist discourse and a picture of a KKK rally with a burning cross targeted members of Black Male Empowerment (BME),” the statement reads in part. “...Remember you do not have to manage everything on your own, we are here to help.”

Near the end of Schmidt’s statement, the chancellor noted the incident has his full attention and said he will provide another update before Thanksgiving break begins Wednesday.

“I know we have much work to do around (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) issues,” Schmidt wrote. “I am committed to concluding our investigation in a timely way.”

UW-Eau Claire criminal justice professor Justin Patchin felt shocked and disheartened when he heard about the incident.

Patchin has worked at UW-Eau Claire since 2004 and doesn’t believe the bigoted attitudes expressed in the group represent a larger campus problem, but he said issues clearly persist.

“I don’t personally get the sense that this is a systematic problem, but there is definitely room for improvement,” Patchin told the Leader-Telegram. “We like to think we’re educating our students to have not only an open mind but realize how hurtful that messaging is… (but) we still have people who think it’s OK to joke about this.”

Patchin, who has worked on the intersection of teens and technology since 2002, noted that social media can quickly make messages like the Snapchat conversation public. He said if the group discussion occurred in person rather than digitally, an investigation likely would not have begun so swiftly.

“If it weren’t for social media, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it,” Patchin said.

The original conversation occurred in a private group chat, but Patchin said the students “are old enough and presumably savvy enough to realize that when you post something online or send a message, there’s always a record of it.”

The Snapchat messages appear underneath the names of students, which seems to be clear evidence of who was involved. However, Patchin urged caution before jumping to conclusions, especially since the university investigation is ongoing. He noted it was possible, if unlikely, that a Snapchat account was hacked or a fake account was made to impersonate a student athlete.

To improve the campus climate moving forward, Patchin said university members need to have conversations about the country’s history of race relations and how to communicate with people from different backgrounds.

This is the second racist incident UW-Eau Claire has publicly dealt with this school year. In September a message telling junior Kayde Langer, who is Red Lake Ojibwe, to “go back to the rez” included a racial slur written on her dorm room door.

An investigation into the incident remains open, and Langer said she has not received any updates on the investigation since it began.

Former security official undercuts Trump impeachment defense

WASHINGTON (AP) — In riveting testimony, a former national security official declared Thursday that a U.S. ambassador carried out a controversial “domestic political errand” for Donald Trump on Ukraine, an allegation undercutting a main line of the president’s defense in the impeachment inquiry.

Fiona Hill told House investigators she came to realize Ambassador Gordon Sondland wasn’t simply operating outside official diplomatic channels, as she and others suspected, but carrying out instructions from Trump.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy,” she testified, “and those two things had just diverged.”

Hill’s comment followed a blistering back-and-forth during questioning from Republicans at the House hearing.

Testimony from Hill and David Holmes, a State Department adviser in Kyiv, capped an intense week in the historic inquiry and reinforced the central complaint: that Trump used foreign policy for political aims, setting off alarms across the U.S. national security and foreign policy apparatus.

Democrats allege Trump was relying on the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election as he sought investigations in return for two things: U.S. military aid that Ukraine needed to fend off Russian aggression, and a White House visit the new Ukrainian president wanted that would demonstrate his backing from the West.

One by one, Hill, a Russia expert at the White House’s National Security Council until this summer, took on Trump’s defenses.

She and Holmes both told House investigators it was abundantly clear Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was pursuing political investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden in Ukraine.

“He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us and in fact,” Hill testified, “I think that’s where we are today.”

And Hill stood up for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who testified earlier and whom Trump’s allies tried to discredit.” He remains at the White House National Security Council.

At one point, Republicans interjected, trying to cut off Hill’s response as she flipped the script during the afternoon of questioning. The GOP lawmakers had been trying to highlight her differences with Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who delivered damaging testimony Wednesday about what he said was Trump’s “quid pro quo” pursuit of the political investigations.

The Republican lawmakers eventually wound down their questions but continued with mini-speeches decrying the impeachment effort. Democrats, in turn, criticized Trump’s actions.

Hill, a former aide to then-national security adviser John Bolton, sternly warned Republican lawmakers — and implicitly Trump — to quit pushing a “fictional” narrative that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in U.S. elections.

Trump has told others testifying in the inquiry that Ukraine tried to “take me down” in the 2016 election. Republicans launched their questioning Thursday reviving those theories.

Hill declared: “I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.”

Her testimony also raised fresh questions whether Bolton, who has yet to defy White House orders for officials not to testify, would appear in the inquiry. In what was seen as a nudge to her former boss, Hill said those with information have a “moral obligation to provide it.”

The landmark House impeachment inquiry was sparked by a July 25 phone call, in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Biden and the Democratic National Committee. A still-anonymous whistleblower’s official government complaint about that call led the House to launch the current probe.

Hill and Holmes both filled in gaps in previous testimony and poked holes in the accounts of other witnesses. They were particularly adamant that efforts by Trump and Giuliani to investigate the Burisma company were well-known by officials working on Ukraine to be the equivalent of probing the Bidens. That runs counter to earlier testimony from Sondland and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine special envoy, who insisted they had no idea there was a connection.

Holmes, a late addition to the schedule, also undercut some of Sondland’s recollections about an extraordinary phone call between the ambassador and Trump on July 26, the day after the president’s call with Ukraine. Holmes was having lunch with Sondland in Kyiv and said he could overhear Trump ask about “investigations” during a “colorful” conversation.

After the phone call, Holmes said Sondland told him Trump cared about “big stuff,” including the investigation into the “Biden investigation.” Sondland said he didn’t recall raising the Bidens.

During Thursday’s testimony, the president tweeted that while his own hearing is “great” he’s never been able to understand another person’s conversation that wasn’t on speaker. “Try it,” he suggested.

Holmes also testified about his growing concern as Giuliani orchestrated Ukraine policy outside official diplomatic channels. It was a concern shared by others, he testified.

“My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland stated, “Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and f---s everything up.”

Holmes testified that he grew alarmed throughout the year, watching as Giuliani was “making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens.”

Hill left the White House before the July phone call that sparked the impeachment probe, though she was part of other key meetings and conversations related to Ukraine policy. She opened her testimony with an impassioned plea for Republicans to stop peddling an alternative theory of 2016 election interference and helping Russia sow divisions in the United States.

“This is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for,” she said about the currently American political climate. “They would pit one side of our electorate against the others.”

She warned that Russia is gearing up to intervene again in the 2020 U.S. election. “We are running out of time to stop them,” she testified.

Trump — as well as Republicans on the panel, including ranking GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California — continue to advance the idea that Russian interference was a “hoax,” and that it was Ukraine that was trying to swing the election, to stop Trump’s presidency.

“That is the Democrats’ pitiful legacy,” Nunes said in his opening remarks. He called it all part of the same effort, from “the Russia hoax” to the “shoddy sequel” of the impeachment inquiry.

Hill, who became a U.S. citizen in 2002, told lawmakers she was the daughter of a coal miner in the northeast of England, noting it is the same region George Washington’s ancestors came from.

Hill said Bolton told her separately he didn’t want to be involved in any “drug deal” Sondland and Trump’s acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were cooking up over the Ukrainian investigations Trump wanted.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the “political battles” in Washington had overtaken the Russia allegations, which are supported by the U.S. intelligence agencies.

“Thank God,” Putin said, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

Brewers Logo

It seemed to Tom Skibosh that every entrant into the Milwaukee Brewers logo contest somehow involved a mug of beer. And they weren’t good.

The year was 1977, and Skibosh was the Brewers director of publicity. The team had invited logo submissions, and he was sifting through 1,931 entries by aspiring artists. He had a home office at the time, and the entries were all over the floor.

“A lot of these things were just terrible,” he recalled. “There were stick men holding a bottle of beer and that type of stuff. We had one with a really thick packet, had to be an inch thick, and it’s a lawyer explaining how he gets all the rights if we pick his logo. It was a stick man with a mug of beer too. He did more work in drawing up this guarantee than he did in his artwork. I was starting to panic because none of these were worth anything; they were pretty bad.”

The Brewers were looking for a new brand. Having more or less re-purposed the colors and look of the 1969 Seattle Pilots uniforms when the franchise moved to Milwaukee in 1970, the front office was now looking for something more distinctive.

Skibosh said it was then-vice president of marketing Dick Hackett who suggested the Brewers give fans a chance to be part of the process, establishing a contest for new logo submissions.

Nearly 250 miles northwest of Milwaukee, 29-year-old UW-Eau Claire art student Tom Meindel heard an advertisement promoting the contest as he listened to the radio broadcast of the New York Yankees facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1977 World Series.

He presented a design concept to his wife, Elaine, another art student.

“I knew right away that was going to be a winner, I just knew it,” she said from her home in Green Bay. “I told him, ‘Don’t change a thing, send it in right now.’ ”

It was, of course, a piece of art that would become associated with the Milwaukee Brewers in one way or another for the next 40 years. The ball-in-glove logo became the club’s primary insignia from 1979-93. In 2006, the Brewers created a “retro Friday” promotion, regularly returning to the logo, and it was resurrected more in recent years, including for 52 games in 2019.

On Monday, the Brewers announced a rebranding that included new uniforms that will riff on the jerseys from their history, and an ever-so-slightly updated version of Meindel’s work.

As the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Brewers are returning to the logo that’s widely considered its finest.

“There was something so distinctive about it, and so Milwaukee,” said Bud Selig, Major League Baseball Commissioner Emeritus and the owner of the Brewers at the time of the logo’s inception. “It was really popular because, when you look at it, it was reflective of both the Brewers and Milwaukee. I think that’s why fans loved it so much.”

Clear-cut winner

Skibosh’s worries about finding the right logo evaporated quickly after seeing Meindel’s submission in his pile.

“It was a card, and the logo stuff was cut out, so it kind of looked 3D,” Skibosh said. “His colors were brown and yellow, which I knew would never go over, because (the Brewers) were into the blue. But I opened it up ... and thought, ‘Cool, he’s got an M and a B as part of the glove. This is really good.’ When it came time, I went to Hackett and I said, ‘Look, Dick, this is by far the best thing (we’ve gotten).’ ”

Skibosh said he even selected two “finalists” for the logo alongside the ball-in-glove that were sure to be turned down. “I never called everyone else,” he said. “Tom’s the only guy I called. The other people weren’t going to win it.”

Meindel agreed to turn over the rights to the artwork for $2,000. The Air Force veteran and his wife had two children, and the money became a down payment on their house.

The Brewers came away with imagery that would eventually become legendary. Find any online poll weighing the best logos in pro sports history, and you’ll find that Brewers logo near the top.

“He used to go to a Shopko, and say, ‘It’s on lunch pails, it’s on pajamas, it’s on everything, and I get none of it,’ ” said Tom’s sister, Beanie Meindel-Coons.

Ultimately, he made peace with the situation.

“He might have been a little bitter for a little while, but when he was going through it, he was trying to go to school, make a living and make a house payment,” she said.

“He was always doing artwork for somebody. Every summer, he’d get a booth at the fair and do caricatures of people for a couple bucks a piece. He was never a great business person. That was kind of his downfall; it was all about the art. He was so talented. It was just scary how talented he was.”

Elaine, who was married to Tom from 1972-92 before they divorced, said she never sensed much bitterness. And it doesn’t bother her either, although she laughed and acknowledged “they got off cheap.”

The Brewers did give Tom permission to sell belt buckles with the logo during Milwaukee’s World Series run in 1982, and she estimated he made another $3,000 off sales.

It’s hard to even compare that history to what happens today. Pro sports franchises contract with professional design firms, not just to come up with a logo but a whole branding “system,” as it’s now known. That can mean uniforms, merchandise, promotions and more, often with input from a league office as well.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell, the son of former Brewers employee John Counsell, was a 7-year-old in nearby Whitefish Bay when the 1978 Brewers season began. Counsell said he always thought the sign of a great logo is when you see it in other cities.

“In our travels, you see it as a fashion statement. It’s a cool-looking hat,” he said. “That’s how you know it’s a great logo, when you go to New York and somebody’s wearing an all-black Brewers hat or a traditional ball-in-glove, regular game hat. People want to be seen in it.”

Legacy endures

Tom took his own life in May 2018 at age 71 in Eugene, Ore., where he had lived since the 1990s. He is survived by his two grown children with Elaine, Adam and Anna. His sister said he waged longstanding battles with financial trouble and alcohol.

But his legacy lives on — in more than just the Brewers logo. Tom grew up in Eau Claire and attended Regis High School, and Beanie said his artistic skills were always superb.

“He was a great artist,” she said. “He could draw perfect circles when he was still sitting in a high chair. Give him a crayon and piece of paper … we’d be watching TV, he’d sketch one of us, and it was so true to life.”

His work extended to oil paintings, and then to corporate signage. Beanie said up and down Water Street in Eau Claire you could see Tom’s work.

“He did their menus and big signs on the store front,” Beanie said. “You’d go down the street and say, ‘Tom did that, Tom did that, Tom did that.’ Tom designed the whole scheme of things.”

Tru-Lock & Security in Eau Claire still uses the original logo Tom drew in the 1970s, and Brewers fans will recognize the clever visual logic, merging a “T” and an “L” while hiding the silhouette of a key in the graphic.

“He worked for Menards, freelanced and was hired by one of my clients (Larry Barr) to start a design firm housed upstairs over Houligans in downtown Eau Claire,” said John Lawler, who was head of the graphic design and communications department at UW-Eau Claire when Tom was a student.

“(Barr) owned Houligans, She-nanigans, Fanny Hill and a few others. I had done the logo work and menus for the places before Tom took charge and continued the marketing.”

Life eventually took Tom west to be closer to his parents, who had moved to Oregon. Beanie said Tom donated a kidney to their mother, Joann, and did so on short notice when doctors revealed they had mixed up test results identifying which child was compatible. Tom found out he would be the most suitable donor, and not his brother, Dick, two nights before surgery.

Tom also participated in a number of “Rendezvous” events, historical re-enactments portraying the fur trade and pioneer days. Elaine helped create his costumes.

“Buckskin stuff, Missouri riverboat shirts … made his leather pants and his leather pouches. I was mother earth, I was like a hippie mom,” she said with a laugh.

Elaine and Tom remained friends after the divorce, but she said the friendship came to a heartbreaking end when Tom sent a check for $2,000 and a warm thank you note in the mail shortly before he died. Elaine said the out-of-the-blue gesture told her something was wrong.

She said she hoped the logo would help people focus on the positive aspects of Tom’s legacy.

“I asked him one time, a long time ago, ‘If I would have said to you, don’t send that in, would you have sent it in?’ and he said, ‘No, I wouldn’t have,’ ” Elaine said. “I never used to talk about it much, and now that I see people with the logo on, I always say, ‘Do you have time for a story? I’ll tell you a really cool story.’ ”

Reprinted with permission of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.