The Pitfalls of Dual Allegiance

You could spot them a mile away.

As our season came to a close in Evanston, Illinois, the fan base of the Milwaukee Panthers collectively despaired in the loss of such a promising year.  What could have been an NIT championship fell by the wayside due to jacking up too many threes and being stumped by a 1-3-1 zone.

When we were all loaded into the bus and ready to go, the people who had lost their season were easy to find; they were the ones, like me, completely distraught.  This had been our best season in five years, and we were so hungry for success that we could have tasted victory just a couple hours before.

But now, all of us were disappointed.  Well, most of us.  Because you weren’t a mile away in a bus, spotting the fans who weren’t disappointed was beyond easy.

It wasn’t that they wanted us to lose.  No, they wanted us to win very much.  But the end of our season does not mean the end of their season.

Because hey, Bucky’s still dancing.

There’s no harm, no foul from the Northwestern game when you still have your very own high-major to root for.  The Badgers won twice this weekend to advance to the Sweet 16, where they take on our rival Bulldogs in New Orleans.

Good for them.  Bo Ryan has put together a top-20 program nationally, and he did it with precious few McDonald’s All-Americans. His program is the envy of over 300 schools, and even though he doesn’t win a ton in the NCAA Tournament despite tremendous financial resources, the Badgers still take down enough titans (No. 1 Duke in 2009-10 and No. 1 Ohio State this year) to be nationally relevant.

But that’s not the point.  The key word in the last paragraph comes in the first sentence: “Good for them.

Them.  They, as in not us.  The Wisconsin Badgers are their own program, completely independent from everyone else.  There are programs like this all over the country, and then there are those like us – where fans who have Milwaukee tattooed on one arm and Wisconsin on the other are not only accepted, they are common.

We talk about what the Panthers can be – this sleeping giant of a school, all it needs is to be woken up.  But to really know why this school has not gotten up off the ground permanently, all you need to do is look at the name for every metaphor you need.

Milwaukee is a name that stands on its own – it looks like a major team, it rolls off the tongue like a major team.  But just as big brother Bucky does elsewhere, the Badger suffocates us.  Despite our logo on the floor and the name across our chests brandishing “MILWAUKEE,” we see countless references to our school’s name, the metaphor of which I speak:

Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  As in Wisconsin, the Family, Milwaukee, the Genus, and Panthers, the Species.  No matter what we do, we run around with this “Wisconsin-” attached like a cancer, crushing us under its weight as a reminder to everyone – our fans, our alumni, our city, and the country – that this is Wisconsin’s little buddy, the AAA team by the lake.

And there’s your metaphor.  Because Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a school where people are allowed to cheer for the Milwaukee Panthers and the Wisconsin Badgers, because hell – they’re both in the name; after all, we’re in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It is precisely this acceptance of a name that perpetuates the belief that Milwaukee is not at Wisconsin’s level, that we are their minor-league team and that we are not worthy of our own fan base.  Our fans are free to cheer for both.

So when the Milwaukee Panthers had their season end on Wednesday, it was quite all right with the fans who hold Dual Allegiance; after all, it’s only one of their teams that is knocked out.  They still have Bucky.

And in the majority of years, Wisconsin will outlast Milwaukee in the college basketball season, just as it gets a three-month head start with football.  So those who hold Dual Allegiance are cheering on Bucky and Bucky alone for more time than the Panthers and Badgers share the fans’ interest.  It is that time, when Bucky has the spotlight for these fans, that answers the following question:

If you were staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, bullet ready to strike, who are you behind?

Until we as a UWM community accept that Bucky is not a part of us and in fact an adversary, the program can not reach the level that we have always wanted – in other words, the giant will remain asleep until we back Milwaukee 100%.

I think, if we’re going to reach our potential, one symbolic way to cut out the problem would be to cut out Wisconsin from our athletics name once and for all.  We already try to go by the name Milwaukee, but when we have UWM as an acceptable reference, the myriad of wrong names keeps coming up.  That, coupled with a lack of due diligence in keeping media using the correct names, has kept us from moving forward.  I’ve already gone over it at length, but changing our short name from UWM to MKE or MIL would be a great first step toward assuming our own identity and our own fan base.

Milwaukee, as great as it could be, will never get there as long as our own fans lay claim to multiple programs.  On Wednesday, I sat in front of a Panther fan on the bus who just happened to decide to wear his Wisconsin hat.  To a Panther road trip.

The sad part is, he walked into Northwestern’s arena wearing that hat; looked mighty proud too.  Why shouldn’t he?  The last time his team went there, they floored Northwestern on their home court.

But that game has absolutely nothing to do with Milwaukee, and his hat was just a chilling reminder of how far we have to go.

We need to take the first step.  We need to cut the cord. It’s time for Milwaukee to stand on its own paws.

Because if we don’t divorce ourselves from the Dual Allegiance to Wisconsin, then our sleeping giant will never, ever fully awaken.

This video is from the bus trip on Wednesday – the Bucky fan (not the only one) is at the end, when I move the camera to face the back of the bus.

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