7 Schools That Dropped Their Native American Nicknames
By Lucas Reilly
The debate over Native American sports mascots has roiled for decades. While pro teams like the Washington Redskins are standing firm, change is brewing in the lower tiers. Over the past three decades, 28 high schools nicknamed “Redskins” have ushered in a new mascot. The last college with the moniker dropped it over a decade ago. Here are some stories of schools that dropped their Native American nicknames and mascots.
1. Cooperstown High School, New York
For nine decades, the quaint upstate New York town was home of the Redskins, but that changed in March 2013. Surprisingly, the move wasn’t sparked by an irate tribe or school board, but through a student petition. The Oneida Nation was so moved by the gesture, they donated $10,000 to cover the change’s cost. The school—which is 0.32 percent Native American—now buzzes with Hawkeye pride.
2. Carthage College
Oh, the difference a space makes! Formerly the “Redmen,” Carthage’s nickname caught flak from the NCAA in 2005. So Carthage got creative—they pressed the space bar, changing from the “Redmen” to the “Red men,” a testament to their bright red jerseys. (In a bigger move, they also removed all Native American imagery from the school logo.) The NCAA gave Carthage’s new name the thumbs up.
3. Wiscasset High School, Maine
After a local Native American group complained about the school’s Redskin moniker, the board decided it was time to start fresh with Wolverines—and it didn’t win them any popularity points. Students staged a walkout, and, a year later, the boys varsity basketball team came to a home game wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the old logo. The crowd showered them with a standing ovation.
4. Southern Nazarene College
When Miami University of Ohio became the Redhawks in 1997, South Nazarene—a small Christian liberal arts college in Oklahoma—was the only collegiate Redskin left standing. With the school’s 100-year anniversary approaching, a marketing committee suggested it was prime time to change. It proved painless. That said, students did have to briefly endure being represented by a smiling cloud. (They changed to the Crimson Storm.)
5. Dartmouth College
Although Dartmouth originated to turn Native Americans into missionaries, its unofficial Indian mascot is just a coincidence. Legend has it that in the 1920s, sports journalists started calling the Ivy League school the “Indians,” and the name stuck. Following a wave of Native American protests in the 1970s, the trustees nixed the name and logo, going with another unofficial nickname, "Big Green," and favoring mascots like “Dartmoose.” But nothing beats the fan favorite, Keggy the Keg, a humanoid keg overflowing with school spirit(s).
6. Syracuse University
For years, ‘Cuse’s mascot was a fearsome goat. But in the 1920s, rumors swirled that the body of a 16th-century Onondaga chief had been excavated under the women’s gym. The student paper dubbed the body “Big Chief Bill Orange,” or the Saltine Warrior, and he rose to mascot fame. When the Saltine Warrior retired in 1978 after protests, a flood of bad subs followed: A roman gladiator, a Superman knockoff, a troll named “Egnaro,” and even a dude in an orange tuxedo. Finally, in 1980, Otto the plush orange captured fans’ hearts.
7. Stanford University
Stanford sported a logo of a near cross-eyed Indian with a big nose in the 1930s. In 1972, Native American students petitioned against it. Stanford changed its mascot to the “Cardinal”—a move that confused everyone. (The name referred to the school color—not the songbird.) Stanford had run through plenty of other ideas, too: Robber Barons, Railroaders, Sequoias, Trees, Spikes, Huns, and Griffins. In 1975, the Stanford band poked fun at the wishy-washy renaming process by teasingly introducing a steaming manhole, a French fry, and a tree. Fans fell in love with the tree, and he’s been there ever since.
BONUS: Amherst College
Although Amherst doesn’t have a Native American mascot, it has roped itself into the debate. Their mascot, Lord Jeff, is a caricature of Lord Jeffery Amherst, commander of the British Army during the French and Indian War. Amherst gets a bad rap because he approved the infamous plan to give smallpox infested blankets to Native Americans. In his letters, Amherst wrote that he wanted to “bring about the total Extirpation of those Indian Nations” and to “put a most Effectual Stop to their very Being.” He even suggested hunting Indians with dogs. The debate is ongoing, and a handful of townies have even suggested changing the locale’s name.