Not so many years ago, the NCAA forced my Alma Mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania–located in the town of Indiana, PA–to abandon it’s historic nickname, mascot, and iconography as “The IUP Indians.” A lot of folks were resentful at the external pressure, a lot more were like me and just thought it was a big waste of time for something that was not patently offensive and, in the eyes of many, actually a flattering reference.
The University had dragged it’s feet, and the first change was to keep the “Indians” name but switch out the Indian Chief mascot–and most Native American-themed imagery, for a Bear mascot, which made absolutely no sense except that the school was worried about blithely turning it’s back on 120+ years of history. Next up, the school spent about a quarter of a million dollars for a consultant whose recommendation was to re-name the sports teams “The Flaming Arrows”–all of the expected jokes, and a few that were unexpected, followed, and the idea was quietly vanished one dark Appalachian night. A few years later, a new administration spent another ton of money on research, marketing, surveys, and polls our teams became The Crimson Hawks, despite the student suggestion: The Fighting Squirrels, a reference to the population of bold, aggressive throngs of grey squirrels that makes residence in the University’s Oak-shaded campus, striking fear in the hearts of all who dare to snack within it’s confines. The Crimson Hawks, fortunately, was humorous on a few levels, not the least of which is that there’s no such creature.
Well, that’s not exactly true–there is a Crimson Hawk, but she is an Internet-based adults-only comics action heroine described as “the world’s sexiest, most powerful, and most frequently defeated, humiliated and ravished superheroine.” with her own, decidedly NSFW subcription-based website. No matter what the odds, our heroines always find themselves defeated, bound, and abused. Opps.
I thought it was was a waste of money, a kneejerk reaction, and a shot at tradition. When the softcore superhero business came to light I enjoyed a good laugh at the hubris behind lack of due diligence, but from the distance of a few years, it hasn’t been a big deal. We adapted quickly. Some people think the nickname is really, really awesome— when I think about IUP sports I think “Hawks,” not “Indians,” and there is a huge upswing, owing to the marketing aspect of the change, in students wearing IUP colors in t-shirts, sweat-shirts, jackets, etc–which translates, in my eyes, as increased pride. When I was an undergrad–back when kids carried baked potatoes in their pockets on the way to school just to warm their hands, most of the college-themed apparel one saw on campus was either for Pitt or Penn State–big, well-marketed schools to the east and west of us. That is no longer the case. IUP is more popular than ever, and making more money than ever from it’s brand.
Now, it’s time for more change.
I have to admit I was ambivalent to the Washington football team name and logo until half an hour ago–not indifferent, mind you, but just of the mindset that in a world of injustice this is a pretty minor thing. This video set my mind. The name must go, and the ownership needs to look at the process as a marketing opportunity after years of disappointment culminated with a terrible season and the overdue dismissal of an ineffective coach.
With several of the potentially most electrifying young players in the league, the future looks bright if they hire the right coach. It seems like the perfect time for them to rebrand, as well. They certainly can’t make the argument that it’s prohibitively expensive–nobody is buying branded items from this down-but-not-quite-out franchise right now, so there is no place to go but up–and if a rural Pennsylvania University with less than 15,000 students can find a way to rebound from the embarrassment of the S & M Superhero debacle and rebrand in a way that solidifies its image and its revenue stream, surely the big corporate geniuses in DC can do even better. Heck, I’ll even give you one for a starter–reach out to the N.A. community, work an apology into the deal (you don’t even need to mean it, Dan), and ask ’em–we’ve always said our name is a tribute, not a slur, so we’re not content with just changing the name, tell us what we can do to go to the other extreme–how can we become the team that IS a tribute. What should we call ourselves? How can be change how you feel?
It’s not that hard…so let’s get on it.