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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  • Posted by: - May. 29, 2005 12:45 PM ET USA

    I think it's a great tribute. It's wonderful to see a positive part of San Diego's history celebrated. Where's the harm in suggeting that a priest might enjoy playing a game of baseball and possess such qualities as to make him good at it.

  • Posted by: - May. 29, 2005 8:40 AM ET USA

    If any major league team in search of a mascot wants to use an image of me that implies that I still can hit, just give me their publicity department's number. I'll pick up the artists' and lawyers' tabs.

  • Posted by: - May. 28, 2005 9:10 AM ET USA

    We had to change the mascot for the Oshkosh West High School from Chiefs. Now, this is particularly ironic since the entire CITY of Oshkosh is named after a well known Indian chief. So, are we next going to see the city have to change ITS name, also? Or Tomah? or the many many cities, towns, and villages in WI and other states named after Native Americans? This is part of our history.

  • Posted by: - May. 27, 2005 9:52 PM ET USA

    Sounds like the Archbishop must have a Diocese where all the Church rules are strictly followed, Churches are full, vocations are up, no clergy problems etc. Only such a Diocese could enable the good Bishop to spend his time tilting at windmills!

  • Posted by: - May. 27, 2005 5:40 PM ET USA

    I can hear it now . . . the wimpy impi !

  • Posted by: - May. 27, 2005 2:22 PM ET USA

    I have been saying this for years! The Celtics example is great, but do any of those same Irishmen complain about Notre Dame's nickname???? The city of Baltimore named it's team "the Ravens" to honor Edgar Allan Poe, not to insult him. Are the steel workers in Pittsburgh insulted by the football team's nickname? And Cowboys in Dallas? Although I much prefer the New Orleans Saints nickname...

  • Posted by: - May. 27, 2005 10:42 AM ET USA

    In this age when a certain chic madness predominates the worlds of the media, much of government and, of course, academia, watch closely as PETA begins to complain that we are abusing our animal siblings by naming teams after them, such as Bears, Tigers, Lions, Cubs, Wolves, Dolphins, Cougars, etc. These are indeed the times when inmates are running the asylum.

  • Posted by: - May. 27, 2005 9:03 AM ET USA

    Uncle D. has it right. And for your further consideration, check out the mascot for the Boston Celtics. I cannot recall a single Irishman ever raising any protest over the comical leprchaun in the shamrock vest and derby hat. Time for college presidents and others in authority to calmly but firmly assert their authority in these small matters. Who knows - when the tantrums pass and and they are still in business, they may gain enough confidence to take a run at weightier problems.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - May. 27, 2005 7:38 AM ET USA

    The other option would be to remember who Fr. Marquette was. The "Marquette Missionaries" has a ring. "Marquette Explorers" is not bad either.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - May. 27, 2005 7:34 AM ET USA

    What would happen if people just ignored the Marquette president? Nike can continue manufacturing Warrior uniforms and t-shirts. And if the University "officially" changes the name they would not have to pay copyright fees. Newspaper writers, who invented many of the nicknames in the first place, could continue to write about the fortunes of the Warriors. The coach when ordering uniforms has them imprinted with the name "Marquette". It's not hard to imagine.