The following is an essay first published on the Marquette Law School web site, reprinted here with permission of the author.
Why Not Warriors?
By Mark Kapocius
Was Marquette University’s decision in 1993 to replace the Warrior mascot with the Golden Eagles the right thing to do? Absolutely not. In fact, it may have been the worst decision ever made in the history of the school. Not only was the process fatally flawed, but also the supposed rationale for the decision lacked substance.
When Marquette, under the direction of Rev. Al DiUlio, arbitrarily and capriciously decided to change the nickname, it was a complete surprise. In classic liberal paternalism, Rev. DiUlio said that “it was simply the right thing to do, and the decision will not be reversed.” Translation: “I know what is best for you. Don’t question me.” Afterward, in an attempt to appease the disgruntled students, an election took place to choose a new mascot from two options: Golden Eagles or Lightning. Votes of “no change” and “Warriors” were ignored. Apparently, this passed as student involvement.
But at no point in the process were students or alumni involved in the decision to drop Warriors. The student government of Marquette, ASMU, was completely left out of the process. Despite the best efforts of students at the time to open the issue up for debate, dissenters were summarily silenced. College Republicans selling t-shirts that merely stated, “We will always be Warriors,” were swiftly reprimanded and shut down by university officials despite being given prior approval by the Office of Student Life. Alumni groups were also shot down even after DiUlio’s departure. According to Mary Schmitt Boyer, Marquette alumna and sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer
, organized efforts through the national alumni clubs to examine the possibility of reviewing the decision were shut down when the alumni office told the volunteer club leaders they’d lose their positions if they persisted.
What fueled the fire of dissent was that the reason for the change was never articulated. It appears that the reason for the change was because officials presumed the Warrior mascot to be offensive and racist. The problem is that their presumption is wrong. The offensiveness of Indian mascots has not been proven and Indian mascots actually serve the opposite effect: recognition and respect.
Marquette University originally chose the nickname Warriors out of respect for Native Americans. Mascots, in general, are chosen because of the traits they embody, like valor, courage, bravery and leadership. You would not elect a nickname that you would consider inferior and it would hardly be racist to call someone brave or courageous. Much like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Boston Celtics, or the Mequon Homestead High School Highlanders, nicknames referring to an ethnic group are chosen out of respect for the peoples they represent.
Ironically, the decision to change the nickname is a complete reversal of the University’s position less than a decade earlier. An official 1983 Marquette basketball program describing the history and tradition of the mascot, First Warrior, states that, “the symbol for Marquette University’s intercollegiate athletic teams represents the spirit, dignity and strength of the name Warrior. The primary function of the symbol is to serve as a rallying or focal point at intercollegiate athletic events, while promoting cultural awareness of the American Indian.”
The Warrior of Marquette gave recognition and respect to Native Americans and the First Warrior was a source of pride to Native Americans. In fact, the First Warrior symbol was “conceived by Native American students at Marquette. The suit is representative of the six Wisconsin woodland tribes ... and after a year of work and 1,067 hours of Lila Blackdeer’s time, the suit was completed ... Mark Denning, a junior from West Allis, Wis., is the First Warrior,” the 1983 Marquette program said. Additionally, only a Native American student could play the part of First Warrior.
Marquette, among others, assumes that Native Americans are offended by the use of Native American mascots. According to a Peter Harris Research Group, Inc. poll, found in the March 4, 2002, Sports Illustrated
, 83 percent of the Native Americans polled said that professional teams should not stop using Indian nicknames. Even the most apparently offensive nickname, the Washington Redskins, had an approval rating of 69 percent from Native Americans. There is also ample evidence that the various Native American nations that are represented by colleges and universities support the use of their names and identity. The University of Utah (Utes), Florida State University (Seminoles) and Central Michigan University (Chippewas) are all examples of schools that have consulted with their respective Indian Nations and have been endorsed and encouraged to continue the use of the names. Why? Because they cast a favorable light on their heritage, similar to the Irish, Celtics, and Highlanders.
Marquette’s Warrior was not meant to be offensive and is not decried as offensive by the vast majority of the group it purports to offend. Marquette completely overreacted to a controversy that never existed.
My adversaries will undoubtedly present arguments from various committees and organizations calling my position racist and insensitive. However, these groups need only look at the case of the University of North Carolina-Pembroke. The NCAA’s Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee recently told the university to change its insensitive nickname, the Braves. The problem is that Pembroke’s administration and students don’t want it changed. Pembroke was originally founded as a college for members of the Native American Lumbee Tribe and the current administration and student body is still significantly Native American. Pembroke chose its nickname to honor their heritage and they don’t need NCAA committees, or other sanctimonious organizations, to tell them what is, or is not, offensive. As the Lumbee Tribal Chairman Milton R. Hunt proclaimed, “the Lumbees don’t want the NCAA to meddle with this” To us [the Brave] is a part of the University’s name, and the Lumbees would consider it an insult if it were changed. We don’t have to have you (the NCAA) tell us what’s offensive.” UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Dr. Allen Meadors vows to defend the school’s ties to the Lumbees. “We’re going to fight this because it is not appropriate for the NCAA to order us to remove it because the American Indians cherish having the brave emblem” and it symbolizes their “integrity, courage and the ability to overcome all odds.”
So, why does it matter to me? After all, it’s just a name, right? Except being a Warrior means something. I am still a Warrior and always will be. Similarly, many students, alumni, faculty and staff of Marquette have an emotional connection to Warriors that was bred in us over years of loyal support and allegiance. Cutting off that connection, without any rationale or compelling reason given, is why there is still anger. Tradition has value and words define us.
After ten years, it’s time to make the change back to the Marquette Warriors. From the whimsical decision, to the sham election, to the faulty logic behind the change, the whole nickname issue is an embarrassment. The current mascot, which looks like a chicken, is a painful reminder of the University’s knee-jerk response to political correctness. Yet, a sign of maturity is admitting mistakes and taking action to remedy one’s mistake. With all due respect to Rev. Al DiUlio, he was wrong. It was not the right thing to do, and the decision needs to be reversed.