Sunday, September 13, 2009

Northwestern needs a new mascot

I have officially been at Northwestern University in various capacities - undergraduate student, staff member, and graduate student - for TEN YEARS. Yep, over one-third of my life has passed along Sheridan Road. That alone is a sobering thought - no question that ol' NU has been a good place to study and work, but ten years...wow.

Given the length of my own tenure on this campus, and the strong family connections (my father, uncle, and brother are alumni too), you might think that I would be an NU sports superfan, of the purple-bleeding variety, but I am not. This is for two reasons. The first is genetic - I come from a long line of sports-indifferent people, and, try as I might, I just can't get excited about college sports. The second reason, though, is a critical issue which I entreat the University to address for the sake of students past, present, and future: the mascot. Sorry, Willie - the wildcat needs to be replaced, for the following reasons.

First, let's look at the facts. The wildcat became NU's sports mascot completely by accident. Before the wildcat, NU's athletic nicknames included "The Fighting Methodists" and "Purple." I'm not a Methodist, but I'd be willing to be one on the field or in the stands. I don't know if the Wesleys were good at sports, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Eighteenth-century theologians aside, "Wildcat" name comes from a sportswriter's description of a football team's tenacity in a 1924 game. It is indeed the accidental mascot.

Second, I, one who knows nothing about sports, can name three big schools who are also "Wildcats," and probably more fittingly so:
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Arizona
  • Kansas State University
I've never been on the campus of K-State, but I can say with confidence that at least Kentucky and Arizona deserve the mascot more than Northwestern. The mountains around U of A's main campus in Tucson are home to bobcats and moutain lions. As far as UK goes, I don't know of any wild felids roaming the streets of Lexington, but I assure you that there are plenty of wildcats in the backwoods of the Bluegrass State. The closest thing that I've seen in Evanston are Lisa's four-legged hellions (which live off-campus) and the occasional skunk.

Moving into the land of opinion, nothing about NU really says "wildcat" to me. Why not pick something that taps into our history? Failing that, why not pick something unique or maybe a little off-the-wall? One needn't look far for inspiration. Consider some of the other school mascots out there. In the Big Ten alone, we have Badgers and Boilermakers. West of the Mississippi, you'll find Jayhawks, Cornhuskers, and Sooners. On the west coast, we have the Oregon Ducks, the Oregon State Beavers, and two gems from the University of California system - the Anteaters (UC Irvine) and, my favorite, the Banana Slugs (UC Santa Cruz). With the notable exception of the Anteaters, all of these tap into local history, culture, legends, or remarkable fauna. UC Irvine gets special dispensation because anteaters are pretty awesome even if they're not native to southern California. The bottom line is that there's no excuse for overusing sports mascots. I'm watching you, Spartans, Eagles, Tigers, Hawks, and Bears.

In the spirit of constructive criticism, I offer some suggestions for a replacement mascot.
  • The Purple Monkeys
  • The Jaywalkers
  • The Flying Frances Willards1
  • The McLean Stevensons2
  • The Prophets of "See, in 1851, this was considered the northwestern frontier, get it?"
  • The Fighting "Steven Colbert is an alumnus and that makes us all a little cooler by extension"-s
Join me in writing the board of trustees on this critical issue. The time is now. Go U Purple Monkeys!


1 Founder of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, one of the leading forces behind Prohibition. Probably a real party animal.
2 Alumnus McLean Stevenson played the fictional University of Illinois alumnus Lt. Col. Henry Blake on M*A*S*H.

3 comments:

Nancy Campbell said...

If you get Colbert Nation behind this, it will get done.

Anonymous said...

The Prophets of "See, in 1851, this was considered the northwestern frontier, get it?"

No, I don't get it. Looks like there might be a typo???

dek said...

The name "Northwestern" is confusing to some people, since NU doesn't seem to be in the northwest of anything. The Ordinance of 1787 organized the Northwest Territory, from which the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin were later formed. In 1851, when NU was founded, the Chicago area was still considered the northwestern frontier of the United States, hence the name of the university. The term "Old Northwest" remains a valid name for this part of the country. Use "Pacific Northwest" to refer to the region containing Washington & Oregon.