San Jose State Retires 'Spartan Up' Gesture Resembling White Supremacist Symbol

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2020

PULLMAN, WA - SEPTEMBER 08:  A San Jose State Spartans helmet sets on the field during the game against the Washington State Cougars at Martin Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Pullman, Washington.  Washington State defeated San Jose State 31-0.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
William Mancebo/Getty Images

San Jose State University announced it's retiring its "Spartan Up" hand gesture as part of a series of actions to address anti-Black racism. 

University president Dr. Mary A. Papazian cited the gesture's similarity to "what has become a well-known White Power hand gesture."

Athletics director Marie Tuite also issued a statement on the measure:

"We all agree that the gesture has become part of the fabric and footprint of our University, however when the gesture is used improperly, it can be offensive to some members of our University family. When our 'Spartan Up' hand gesture was misinterpreted as an 'okay' sign and not the proper gesture, the improper sign created a division in our campus community. It was timely and appropriate to make the decision to no longer use the hand gesture associated with 'Spartan Up.'"

The Southern Poverty Law Center's David Neiwert wrote in September 2018 that white nationalists had begun to co-opt the once-benign hand signal. The purpose was "both to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it."

"Spartan Up" dates back to 1990, when a former marching band director suggested band members, cheerleaders and fans should bring their thumb and forefinger together to form what looked like a spartan's helmet.

The retirement of "Spartan Up" comes as Americans across the country are demonstrating to call for meaningful reforms to root out systemic racism and social inequality.

UNLV announced earlier this month it was removing the statue of its mascot, Hey Reb!, that was stationed outside of the school's alumni center.

The NCAA has also banned all championship events in states that fly the Confederate flag, a policy that only applies to Mississippi for the time being. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey recently said the conference might reconsider staging championship events in Mississippi if the state doesn't change its official flag.