Posted by: Dave | April 22, 2010

Who Let That Lion Have Its Way With My Bald Eagle?

The College of William and Mary, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, announced last week that it had selected the “Griffin” as the new mascot for its athletic teams.  The Griffin is a mythical creature of yore, half bald eagle and half lion, and according to Terry Driscoll on the university’s web site,

“Its arrival brings William & Mary a mascot that unites strength and intelligence, recalls our royal origins and speaks to our deep roots in American history. With the body of a British lion and the head of an American bald eagle, this mythical creature commands attention. It is an inspiring figure, not least of all for its glorious green & gold feathers.”

William and Mary’s original nickname, the Indians, was phased out in the 1980’s and replaced with the less objectionable “Tribe.”  In 2006, the NCAA ruled that the college could keep the nickname of Tribe, but had to eliminate the green and gold feathers, as being offensive to Native Americans.  The college also had a history of Native American related mascots, including an Indian pony and Colonel Ebirt (Tribe spelled backwards.)

Hence, a search for an appropriate (politically correct) mascot and logo ensued, with the final result being the selection of the Griffin.

But isn’t it ironic that the NCAA considers feathers together with the word “Tribe” to be offensive to Native Americans, but we can take the bald eagle, one of the most revered symbols of the strength and freedom of our nation, mate it with a lion, adorn it with green and gold feathers, and call it “inspiring?” And won’t the bald eagle be relegated to ridicule as a mascot, prancing on the sidelines of the football field and basketball court? Sensitivity to using an American symbol wasn’t that important.

Just like the Griffin, which was chosen to inspire the William and Mary faithful, I suspect that long ago the choice of “Indians” and later the “Tribe” had the same intent. Schools chose mascots as objects of inspiration. This is one reason why legions of Fighting Irish,  Mountaineers, Cowboys, Sooners, Miners, Volunteers, Dukes, Rebels and Cavaliers, to name a few, haven’t stormed the gates of football and basketball arenas claiming compensation for the slights created by reducing their heritage to a nickname or historically inaccurate mascot.

Some references, I will concede, were blatantly offensive, and should have been changed.  The nicknames of Savages, and Redmen, hardly evoke respect.

But in the wave of fear of offending a vocal constituency, other less offensive nicknames and mascots have been lost. We now no longer have  William and Mary’s Tribe and feathers, but Stanford has also replaced its Indians with homage to a color: “cardinal” and countless other universities and schools eliminated their Native American nicknames, such as Braves and Warriors, replacing them with admiration for politically correct animals, weather phenomenon, and birds.

By the way, how do you cheer for a color?        

(The Florida State Seminoles and a few other schools get to keep their names due to support from local tribes.)

So in the end, what has been accomplished?  William and Mary has now “honored” the American Bald Eagle by using part of it as a mascot, and no one takes offense.  And we are somehow being respectful to the Native Americans by eliminating almost all references to them, no matter how innocuous. Now based on their own request, they are longer mentioned, but bypassed, and possibly, forgotten.   

The Griffin really doesn’t offend me, but it does evoke fear. You see, I hope to have grandchildren, and one day I can imagine myself taking my grandchild to a William and Mary football game, and as I exhort the little urchin to do their best so that maybe they will be accepted at such an esteemed university, the innocent lad or lassie will see the Griffin cavorting on the sidelines and turn to me with innocent eyes and ask, “Gee, grandpa, where do Griffins come from?

Sources for this article include William and Mary’s website, which has a history of  their mascots, and Wikipedia, which has an extensive collection of articles and background information on the subject, including a list of sports teams and mascots derived from indigenous peoples.



  1. Dave, good read. You hit the nail on the head.

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