Saturday, March 10, 2007

The City DESK - Rory Riddler, Councilman Ward 1

Faded Glory: UMSL Rivermen
Go The Way Of Chief Illiniwek

Chief Illiniwek was recently sacrificed to the gods of political correctness. The University of Illinois didn’t want to offend Native Americans with a mascot famous for his feathered headdress and war paint. I personally feel that erasing such popular imagery actually hurts Native Americans more, because you are also erasing historic references from popular culture. What you are left with is a future population that will have even less knowledge and interest in American Indian culture.

My own alma mater, UMSL (excuse me, I mean University of Missouri St. Louis no hyphen), is about to do in their own Rivermen team name and mascot. Here was a completely non-descript team name and mascot that nobody cared about. Were there groups of Riverboat pilots lodging complaints I didn’t know about? Had they inadvertently offended the Society of Mark Twain impersonators?

At first I decided it must be the implied sexism in the use of the term Rivermen that had spurred UMSL to swift action, albeit some thirty years after the height of the feminist movement. “Gender neutering” the mascot not only sounds painful, but wasn’t really an available option. Riverpeople sounds like an Irish line dancing group. As a stopgap, UMSL simply referred to its female sports teams as the UMSL Riverwomen.

Riverwomen? What the Illiniwek does that even mean? At least with the Rivermen you could conger up a mental image of a brave steamboat pilot, burly flat boatman or roustabout. But all Riverwomen ever brought to mind were the ones of low morals, plying their trade among the drunken gamblers of some floating pleasure palace of the 1800s. The only thing the other team would be scared of was catching some social disease.

I recently found out that UMSL had conducted voting among students and faculty on a shortlist of replacement team names. Unfortunately most of the list was even lamer than the team name they might replace. There was The UMSL Hurricanes – frightening to teams from the Gulf Coast perhaps, but really not a meteorologically correct name for a team from the Midwest.

Students could also vote for the UMSL Jets. Given Boeing’s prominence in the community that had possibilities, but not if you get into a debate over whether you mean commercial or military jets. Also, how would you like to be the poor schmuck that has to put on an airplane costume and zoom around a basketball court?

Also making the shortlist was the UMSL Revolutionaries. One can only hope they have some sort of 1776 Continental soldier in mind and not a cigar smoking Che Guevera with lots of red banners.

Yale University claims to have adopted the first college mascot in the United States back in 1889. It was “Handsome Dan” the bulldog. It set the standard for choosing a name and mascot with equal parts of strength and likeability. Our own Benton School Bulldogs, now on the endangered species list thanks to the St. Charles School District, also had a catchy slogan the students put on shirts a few years ago. They said Benton Bulldogs – We Will Win So Don’t You Try. It had an utterly demoralizing effect on other grade schools. Maybe the St. Louis Rams should try it.

There are some other College and University team names and mascots I would have to put on my endangered species list. Temple University, a Christian College, has Hooter, a costumed owl. I can’t even imagine a stadium of Christian students yelling “Go Hooters!” They might as well borrow Wake Forest University’s mascot, the Demon Deacon!

Then there is Chip, the buffalo mascot of the University of Colorado. Get it? Buffalo chips? Besides, buffalos were animals sacred to Native Americans. It has to be on the endangered species list of school mascots.

Colonel Reb of the Ole Miss Rebels was recently “demoted” to the “unofficial” mascot category. That’s just one chair closer to the stadium exit. And finally, Pee Dee the Pirate from East Carolina will no doubt succumb one day to those he has offended with bladder control issues.

Of course not every good team name or mascot is taken.

With 7.2 million teens in this country reportedly binge drinking, what about a college team calling themselves The Drunken Hamsters - Frightening behind the wheel of a car, but adorable when passed out.

“Scooter” seemed more like a team mascot name than the top aide to a Vice-President. He won’t be using the name in public for a while anyway.

Of course they could always borrow “retired” commercial mascots. The Frito Bandito is still looking for work and is guaranteed to offend a large minority of the population. Joe Camel is also in the unemployment line and ready to be rehabilitated.

My favorite would have to be The Rabid Bats. Surprisingly no college or university I could find wanted to be associated with rabid bats. The name has great intimidation value. No one wants to tangle with the Rabid Bats…or get them tangled in your hair for that matter.

Too bad the Piasa Bird is from Illinois.