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Discussing Controversial Mascots

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

This blog post is designed to give teachers/parents some ideas with regard to mascots that may be seen as controversial or inappropriate. Some mascots have been under attack for years; other controversies may be in the eye of the beholder.

By Carlo Kumpula (Revised: June, 2023)

As times and perspectives change, some mascots are viewed differently than they had been earlier. Through the years several schools have changed their mascots; in Wisconsin as well as in other states. In most cases the old mascots were race-based. To cite a few Wisconsin examples, the Milton Redmen became the Red Hawks, the Menomonie Indians are now the Mustangs, the Kewaunee Indians have become the Storm, and the Osseo-Fairchild Chieftains are now the Thunder.

Mascot changes rarely happen quietly. Alumni are often adamant that “Once a ________, always a ________!” And in some cases, the new mascot isn’t necessarily seen as an improvement.

Such was the case several years ago in Kelseyville, California when the school decided to drop its 85-year-old Indian mascot in favor of a medieval knight. That prompted waves of protest that the new mascot was insensitive to women and was too warlike. People wrote to the local paper complaining that the new mascot was a step backwards in women’s sports. "What will our illustrious female athletes be called? Maidens? Ladies of the Knights? The Damsels?” wrote one reader. Arguments dragged on for two years until a final school board/community discussion resulted in a vote to not return to the Indians mascot. The Knights, however, prevailed. (1)

At Robstown, in south Texas, it’s been local elders that have defended the use of Cotton Pickers as the school’s mascot. “We’re Latinos. We’re migrant workers, and we picked cotton,” stated one man, “My parents picked cotton.” “Born and raised picking cotton since I was six,” said another. ”That’s why we’re the Cotton Pickers.” One gentleman did admit, though, that a future shift in demographics might signal a need for change. Until then the mascot will continue to be a source of pride as a representation of local history. (2)

(1) Lake County News. Clear Lake, California. 2008.

(2) KIIITV. Corpus Christi, Texas. 2017.

Discussion Questions

1. These are actual mascots still used by schools in the United States: Warriors, Irish, Vikings, Redmen, Criminals, Maniacs, Devils, Hillbillies, Nimrods, Witches, Cotton Pickers, Indians, Rebels, Orphans, and Red Riots. Do you find any of these offensive? If so, why?

2. In some cases, the mascot name may not be as offensive as the way it’s portrayed. An example might be Warriors. If the school’s logo shows a Native American it may be considered offensive; but if the logo was discarded in favor of just the word Warriors on a football helmet or team jersey, would it then be acceptable? How many different groups of Warriors can you think of?

3. Should all schools adopt “safe” mascots, such as animals (Lions, Tigers, or Bears), birds (Eagles, Hawks, or Cardinals), colors (Orangemen, Purgolders, or Bluestreaks), or natural names (Lightning, Tornadoes, Blizzards, or Storm)? Why or why not?

4. To avoid ALL controversy, maybe school mascots should be eliminated entirely. Teams would then be identified only by the school or town name. For example, if that were done in professional football it would simply be Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, and Detroit. Names like Packers, Bears, Vikings, and Lions would no longer be used. What are your thoughts on that idea?

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