Before you continue to read I would like to take this opportunity to whole heartedly, congratulate and applaud Ole Miss. Their students, faculty, alumni, and the proud people of Mississippi are sincerely making strides for the better .
Now, you wonder why I am singling out Ole Miss in this manner? Well it's very simple, we live in a progressive world and at this moment in time, Ole Miss seems to be leading the race in ethics-sensitivity with the rather simple, yet somewhat painful transition from one collegiate identity to another.
Before you start judging Ole Miss, look around the country, they aren't the only university, or pro team for that matter, in need of an identity makeover, but for the moment they are the only one sitting in the barber's chair.
The most basic argument is; who is in need and who is not, and whether or not sensitivity is an issue, or whether or not we should stop wearing our hearts on our sleeves.
Let's take for example Notre Dame's Fighting Irish. Now, I happen to be Scotch-Irish with Native American heritage, and when I see the Leprachaun doing a jig I feel nothing more than amusement, but what do little people or dwarfs think of the stereotype?
Don't laugh. I for one think they might have an opinion, but one person or even 10,000 people protesting isn't going to crate up the Notre Dame mascot. Why you ask? Well there aren't little people and Irish Americans carrying signs and marching in South Bend, nor is anyone lobbying for a change. Even if all this objection took place there would still not be any solid guarantee it would make a difference.
Now let's look at the most obvious and chastised, the Indians and the Redskins (I implore you not to address Native Americans by these names).
Are there people marching? Uh...yeah, in Washington. Okay what about lobbying? Well, a bill was actually presented by the Native American Caucus in the House of Representatives but it never saw a vote. The argument is: Board of trustees/privately owned, privately funded, freedom of speech, case closed, thanks for shopping. That however prompts the question about universities and public schools.
Well, like it or not, almost all colleges or institutions of higher-learning are collectively or privately owned, and are only bound by simple ethics. Public schools could be scrutinized much more intently, but inevitably local goverment, and community organizations; which more than likely are made up of former alumni make the rules and pass judgement. So you are back to square one, and people are still angry, still marching, and still lobbying.
Should we care?
Look at the Minnesota Vikings and say "That's not offensive, that's cool!".
You could point at the Atlanta Crackers and say "What the hell?", but I'd bet you'd have a hard time finding anyone that would admit any true offense. Well...that's a definitive maybe I suppose, but what if you look at the Celtics (that's me along with most white people, sorta) oooops...another Leprachaun. Well I'm not short, and I sure as hell AIN'T lucky. Am I really upset? No, not by this. Does anyone else have their dander up? Sure there is, we're all sensitive to a fault. Do any other caucasian cultures have their dander up? Probably. Do they have cause? Why not?
Everyone has cause, that's my point. Are people of color offended by the Rebel, Indians , Braves, Redskins ...on and on and on, the list is endless? Is their cause genuine? To answer that question, simply put down the sports page and pick up a history book.
I'm not trying to dredge up the past, although I think it's a responsibility to learn from the past, and let's face it; America's history from the 1500's to the mid 1900's has blemishes on it that will never be forgotten, but we can at least try to reconcile by removing the last remnants of ignorance and racial exploitations.
There have been plenty of teams pro, collegiate, and prep that have met resistance for decades over their choices of mascots. The Florida State University Seminoles have recently been in the spotlight, as a neighboring reservation cried foul, but the Native Americans were countered with much publicized praise, that their people were being emulated because of the Seminole people's great and honorable reputation as venerated warriors.
To be fair, it sounds cool, that is until a white kid clad in buck skin rides in on horseback donning war-paint, black-wig, and war-lance. The only thing missing is smoke signals.
The atrocities the Native American people suffered are horrid and numerous, the least we can do is remove their likenesses from mascots. It really doesn't matter how you claim to celebrate or pay homage to their culture it's still exploitation. Which takes me back to Ole Miss.
Even after the Civil War ended, every confederate state continued at some point to fly some version of the confederate flag. "The Stars and Bars" fluttered in the wind in some states long after the final battle at Appomattox, until the Union Army got wind of it and threatened separatist treatment. It was at this point, with the threat of federal exclusionment that the confederate flag began to adorn state flags, as the former CSA thumbed their noses at Lincoln's fragile government. Some of those flags still fly today.
Don't worry, I'm not going to start ranting about state flags or the Civil War, but as much progress as the Magnolia state has made, there are still obstacles in their path before they can completely shed the old plantation style stereotype associated with slavery.
One of the last hold-outs is the moniker "Rebels ". As amusing and innocent as Admiral Ackbar (Star Wars character suggested as satirical replacement/mascot) may seem, at the end of the day everyone knows the real reason "Rebel " is attached to Ole Miss, and no matter how many different labels you attach to it, a duck is still a duck.
The upside to this is they are at least trying, and elsewhere they're thinking outside the box.
There are The Fighting Whiteys of Northern Colorado. Their simple logic is this: "We turned the tables, if anyone takes offense...well we've made our point." Says Solomon Little Owl of the Native American Student Services in an interview where he debated their mascot verses the Washington Redskins .
It's up to everyone to draw their own conclusions and moral decisions about matters of this nature. In the end everybody takes offense to something. I was sixteen years-old before my Cherokee-descended great-grandmother made a very simple remark that changed my entire outlook about ethnic sensitivity.
I was watching a favorite team pummel another, as I proudly displayed my team t-shirt. It was adorned with gilded tomahawks proclaiming athletic dominance. Beatrice shuffled into the room and glared at me from beneath horn-rimmed glasses that weighed more than she did. She pointed at my shirt with her wrinkled little finger and said this: "If you're gonna wear that, you should apologize to me everyday."
Being sixteen and knowing everything I dismissed her declaration and finished watching my game. I asked my mother later on, and she explained to me how hard it was for Beatrice's mother to live in Eastern Tennessee. As a Native American at that time they were treated much the same as blacks and often times much worse. Read the The Trail of Tears or American Slavery and ask yourself just how important your mascot really is to you.
What if there were two teams of accountants that competed during tax season? Their names are The Hebrew Crunchers and The Mandarin Abacuses. Their mascots both wear uniforms that are typical of their culture and race, now the flip side. Not one single individual on either team are Asian or Jewish. Is there anything about this that isn't exploitation or defamatory? Please argue.
Honestly sport fans, this mascot thing is low hanging fruit. While the scab is bleeding, let's rip it off and start over, I promise it will feel better. As a journalist you are supposed to draw a neutral line and state your opinion objectively. Well, I kinda threw that out the window, but for something like this, shouldn't we all do that?
Finally: Ole Miss look no further, here is your new mascot. I present to you The Lantern . You can make a big foam costume to look like the old Coleman lanterns and come up with all kinds of new catch phrases, and nicknames like Lenny the Lantern or Jack Ole- Lantern .
You're asking: Okay what gives? Right? It's elementary my fellows. You are but a few steps away from shedding light on the human subject. It's either this, or Admiral Fishhead. Wait a sec did I just...?