the mascot myth

By Diogenes (articles) | May 27, 2005

How may I offend you? The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Elkhart yesterday condemned in strongest terms the nickname of the San Diego Padres and the corresponding "Friar" mascot, calling them "covert conveyers of patriarchy: morally repellent and offensive to the dignity of Catholics and indeed to Christians of all persuasions." He called upon the National League baseball club to change its logo, insisting that "Catholics are shocked, grieved, and humiliated by the demeaning stereotype of the grinning Franciscan with an eating disorder, which reflects neither the spirituality nor the dietary habits of today's post-Concili--

You get the point. No sane person really believes that team nicknames and mascots ridicule the characters from which they are derived, in spite of occasional lapses of taste in portrayal. Such names and mascots are chosen because of the excellences they symbolize, and in the fashionably controverted case -- viz., references to and images of American Indians -- the mascotry reflects a positive historical appreciation of Indian antecedents and, in particular, an admiration of the noble characteristics of the Indian warrior: his bravery, alertness, stoicism, etc. But sanity is in short supply among those who relish taking offense and who are pathologically keen to spy out occasions of sin, whence the embarrassing spectacle of the president of Marquette University capitulating to the patently bogus demands of a patently bogus victim group.

"We live in a different era than when the Warriors nickname was selected in 1954. The perspective of time has shown us that our actions, intended or not, can offend others. We must not knowingly act in a way that others will believe, based on their experience, to be an attack on their dignity as fellow human beings."

Rubbish. As Michael Levin writes, "an insult is a word or a gesture used with the intention of causing affront through the mutual recognition of that intention." If Americans of European descent had deliberately set out to cause offense to Indians, they'd find many ways of doing so, but branding their own favored institutions with Indian iconography is not one of them. We all know that it was the academic Left, not Indians themselves, that first descried the latent sinfulness in Indian mascotry and coached others to see it there too. Odds are, paradoxically, that real Indians are more offended by the insinuation that they take offense at the stereotype of the noble warrior than by the stereotype itself -- especially in view of the Leftist Replacement Myth, which portrays pre-colonial Indians as bisexual stage designers and free verse poets. Academic shills may find this image a flattering one, but it's doubtful that the Chippewa do.

The real motives become clear if we stand the controversy on its head. Suppose University of Alabama students quietly phased-out the "Crimson Tide" nickname in favor of the "Impi" -- an elite caste of Zulu warriors of the 19th century. It would signal a huge advance in the social progress of blacks if -- spontaneously, prompted by their true admirations -- suburban white boys were to name themselves after African tribesmen, devise related symbols and mascots, and integrate it all with the pieties of "school spirit." Unlike a mere historical association (San Diego Padres, Green Bay Packers), this kind of self-identifying encodes aspiration -- the desire to make such-and-such noble qualities my own. If human dignity were really at issue, it would mark tremendous progress when "Impi" joined the Seminoles, Braves, Chiefs, Illini, and other ikons of innocent respect. But the "human dignity" pretext is a fraud. It simply provides an opportunity for universities to strike moral poses before mirrors: "I thank thee, that I am not as other men..."

And self-congratulation is what a modern university does best.

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