By DANA REYNOLDS – STAFF WRITER
Since the adoption of Yale’s English bulldog, nicknamed “Handsome Dan,” mascots have been popular symbols used to set schools apart from their competitors. These symbols are often characters or animals chosen to display admirable traits such as aggression, courage, and heroism.
The creation of mascots has been very beneficial for colleges in helping build student morale and create publicity, but some mascots have spurred debate.
Although mascots were originally intended to be used for good luck and to get people excited for big game days, the depictions of some mascots and their different traditions have been considered offensive to certain ethnic groups.
Since the turn of the century, more and more colleges have adopted Native American tribe names and mascots. Considered to display courage and spirit, Native American symbols and mascots have been widely used by sports teams and within the NCAA and other divisions.
More than 900 high schools, colleges, and professional teams use American-Indian related images to pump up players, fire up crowds, and sell products.
But is this morally right? Critics claim that the use of such images is racist and offensive. Since the disapproval spurred by Native American activists and athletic associations, 600 teams have shed the Native American connotations, including the University of Illinois, formerly known as the Fighting Illini.
For 80 years Chief Illiniwek served to inspire spirit, but his presence was considered offensive to many Native American groups and barred the university from holding postseason events.
Although supporters of the mascot claimed that it honored the contributions Native Americans made to the state of Illinois, American Indian groups claimed that the mascot was demeaning.
It was extremely upsetting for many Native Americans who viewed the half-time show. During half-time shows, Chief Illiniwek would prance around in traditional clothing with a headdress.
Within Native American culture, the headdress was reserved for the most powerful and influential among the tribe. Many Native Americans felt as though they were being mocked.
Since 2005, the NCAA has had formal regulations against naming teams after Native American tribes, although some names still persist, such as the Florida State Seminoles.
Sophomore Taylor Harrison does not believe that Native American mascots need to disappear.
“I don’t think Native American mascots should be banned,” she said. “I think the only thing that should be banned is the negative stereotyping of Native Americans. There is nothing wrong with celebrating and honoring our country’s history. All that these sports teams are doing is showing pride in their schools. They are also showing pride in the history and the different cultures we have.”
But what about the Florida State Seminoles? They continue to maintain their image with thousands of Caucasian fans with feathers in their hair and yelling war chants on live television.
There are no protests and no angry responses from politicians or activists. Why is this? It is because the university has a formal agreement with the Florida Seminole Tribal Council — this supposedly makes everything acceptable.
Fans use this as an excuse for their obvious racism and blatant disrespect for Native American culture. This agreement, though, is shaky, because the majority of Seminoles do not even live in Florida; they live in Oklahoma.
These Oklahoma Seminoles oppose the use of this mascot. The wealthy Florida Seminole leaders use the mascot as a method of promoting their business — the Hard Rock Café and Casino.
Junior John Ruble believes that this is a very complicated issue.
“I definitely think that it is insensitive on the part of Florida State to use that mascot, but I don’t think that they should be forced to change it,” he said.
“It wouldn’t really matter to me if the majority of the population did not approve [of] it, to be honest. If sixty percent of the Seminoles lived in Florida that would not mean they should be able to speak for the other forty percent,” he said.
Although mascots have spurred a lot of controversy, they have also been a source of comic relief.
Ranging from fierce, aggressive mascots such as University of Michigan’s Wolverine to unbelievably ridiculous ones such as Delta State University’s Flying Okra, mascots are used to boost team morale.
Mascots, as long as they are used in a tasteful manner, provide more benefits than disadvantages. Game days would not be complete without them; they inspire fans to rally up to support the game-winning basket or jump with excitement when a team manages to take the game into overtime.
Junior Patrice Doyle believes that mascots are good things for schools and teams. In fact, she wishes that she saw the Colonel more at games.
“I think they’re beneficial,” she said. “I barely see our mascot and it would definitely be helpful to make more people loud and cheerful.”