By Tim Whyte
Look hard enough, and pretty much anywhere you can find something to offend you.
Case in point:
Long Beach State University is in the midst of choosing a new sports team name and mascot.
Because the previous moniker and mascot — the 49ers and Prospector Pete — were deemed to be offensive representations of the oppression of native populations during the gold rush era.
I am not making this up.
Last year, in response to long-running student objections — because that’s what students do, they object to stuff — Cal State Long Beach dropped the prospector and the 49er moniker. They actually considered calling themselves the 1949ers because that’s the inoffensive year in which the campus was founded.
And, it was decided that a campus statue of the fictional Prospector Pete would be moved from a busy campus plaza to a less prominent location. I’m betting there was an open broom closet somewhere…
Meanwhile, this week the university released the list of new mascot names being voted upon after suggestions from the student body. They include:
• Kraken (mythical sea monster)
• Go Beach (essentially a non-mascot)
Not to be repetitive but I am not making this up. Yes, “Kraken,” “Giraffes” and “Go Beach” really made the list.
Weird. Snowflakes didn’t.
The rest of the names are OK, I suppose. I think I’d go Stingrays if you forced me to pick but that’s not the point.
Hold the phone. I just hatched an idea. Let’s have a little fun with Cal State Long Beach. Everyone go to www.asicsulb.org/mascotsearch/ and vote for Giraffes as your top choice. It would be an absolute HOOT if the Cal State Long Beach Giraffes became an actual thing.
Go on. I’ll wait.
Anyway, while I certainly understand that the U.S. settlement/conquering/theft of the West was fraught with violence, misdeeds, disease and oppression, I think it’s over the top to try to wipe out every last symbol of the time period and its history. The 49ers? Really? So now it’s even offensive to make reference to settlers who came West in an often misguided and futile pursuit of riches?
Yes, many of them — not all — did awful things. And the toll that westward U.S. expansion took on native populations was very real. But folks are digging way too deep in their pursuit of righteous indignation.
Yikes. It just occurred to me: They are letting kids pan for gold out at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival this weekend. Hopefully no one gets offended…
This is an offshoot of the national movement to eradicate sports names that offend anyone, anywhere. Often the names are referring to indigenous peoples, and some are clearly racist or offensive, while others, not so much. There’s definitely a continuum. For example, it’s a lot harder to defend the Washington Redskins name than it is to defend the Chicago Blackhawks.
Funny thing. No one seems all that offended by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or the Vancouver Canucks.
And, some names have been deemed offensive for other reasons. Remember the Washington Bullets? They’re the Wizards now. Apparently sorcery is OK!
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays? Just the Rays now. The word “devil” offended some Christians.
Apparently the New Jersey Devils hockey team gets a pass. (I always thought it would have been hilarious if the Devils had made a trade to acquire the European player named Miroslav Satan. It was pronounced “Sha-TAHN,” but still.)
Many pro franchise owners have resisted calls for name changes, because they have deep enough pockets to do so. Colleges cave pretty easily though. The North Dakota Fighting Sioux are now the Fighting Hawks.
“Finding things to be offended by” is a hobby pursued vigorously by many, particularly on university campuses. This is California. Don’t be surprised if it becomes an actual college major.
In fact I am surprised there haven’t been movements to change the mascot names of fully half of our local high schools.
Hart Indians? Obvious — and someday I’m sure someone will make a huge stink about it, even though the school’s namesake, William S. Hart, star of silent movie westerns, was known for his respect of Native American people and culture.
Canyon Cowboys? Yet another reference to the conquering of the West, which, as previously established, is now considered inherently offensive. Plus, cowboys herd cattle and they’re not doing that to ensure the cattle live long, healthy, contented lives until they die of natural causes surrounded by their loved ones. Hence, a cowboy is offensive to vegans everywhere.
And yes. My high school alma mater, the Saugus Centurions. Symbols of Roman conquest, of course.
Is my college alma mater next? After all, don’t the Matadors of CSUN evoke images of animal cruelty?
Wait ’til this makes its way to San Francisco and its conscientiously offended population realizes they should have been appalled all these years by their NFL team’s name, the 49ers.
Will their baseball team escape scrutiny? Giants may be offensive to diminutive San Franciscans, right?
It all got me wracking my brain — what would be a fitting replacement for the Cal State Long Beach 49ers?
Then it came to me. Instead of Prospector Pete, the mascot could be as simple as a warm blankie and a teddy bear.
We could call them the Long Beach Safe Space. That will strike fear into opponents, won’t it?
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.