I’m sick and tired of writing about sports mascot controversy because it’s too easy for people to be on both sides of the spectrum. I think it’s ridiculous that the National Football League team in Washington uses a racial slur, but I also think it’s equally unnecessary that the University of Illinois was forced to stop paying tribute to Chief Illiniwek during halftime of football and basketball games.
No two mascot controversies are created equal, and both Long Beach colleges are proving that this month. While LBSU is turning away from the 49ers and into The BE/\CH, Long Beach City College is embracing its Vikings moniker despite the obvious historical significance.
What do you think of when someone says 49ers? What do you think of when someone says Vikings? Does one of them include death and destruction as a way of life? And should that preclude that school from using said mascot?
Wherever you land on the issues, it’s fair to say it’s surprising that LBCC hasn’t gotten any backlash for Vikings, while LBSU is in the midst of a six-year naming crisis across the university.
“Certainly there are historical references that could indicate challenges there, but we have not had that here at our college,” LBCC Athletic Director Randy Totorp said of the Vikings mascot and logo, which was redesigned and released this month. The new design is a Viking head profile with full helmet, beard and nondescript skin color.
“The grey skin color (of the mascot) speaks to our cultural diversity,” Totorp said. “It’s something we appreciate about our mascot. There are a lot of iterations of vikings mascots. This one is ours.”
Meanwhile, the LBSU situation has hit a fevered pitch after university President Jane Close Conoley told the university newspaper this month that the Cal State University system has requested that its schools move away from individuals as mascots.
The 49ers controversy stems from the American Indian Studies Department, which believes the violence that prospectors used against Indigenous people during the California Gold Rush was a genocide, and that Prospector Pete is a “symbol of genocide” that must be replaced. Simply put, they’re winning, despite being more angry with the history of the State of California than they are with the Long Beach State 49ers. A pick and shovel, representing the Gold Rush, can be found on the California and university official seals.
They won. The Associated Student Incorporated agrees, and the entire student body will eventually have to vote on that referendum for any official mascot changes to be made. Last week, the university also announced will be moving the Prospector Pete statue that’s on upper campus (pictured) into an alumni visitors center that hasn’t been built yet.
I think it’s important to note here that Prospector Pete is not a real person, so it’s confusing that the CSU system doesn’t want “individuals” as mascots and the 49ers are included in that decree. What should they do with CSU Northridge Matadors and its mascot Matty Matador? You know matadors, the ones who brutally torture and kill animals for entertainment. How about San Diego State Aztecs?
So, the entire CSULB campus is turning into Long Beach State and The BE/\CH after six years of phasing out 49ers as the mascot. While “49ers” is the official university mascot, according to the NCAA, The BE/\CH will now be on all of the sports teams’ jerseys. The LBSU sports information department doesn’t even use 49ers in its official releases.
“With the name issue, there’s certainly passionate people on both sides, but most people don’t care,” Close Conoley told us last year.
I think she’s absolutely right. For years I’ve chosen to not write the mascot names for schools like Compton, St. John Bosco or Compton Centennial. No one has noticed, or said anything to me about the omission.
At LBSU, most of the people who really care about 49ers being the mascot are the upper-campus academics, and the older die-hard athletics fans. Unfortunately, neither is a large group, and these people don’t usually interact with each other. Sports fans argue that the department increases the visibility of the university, and the academic side doesn’t want to hear that when it comes to funding. One is embracing tradition, while the other is embracing inclusion.
“I’m very excited about our rebrand,” LBSU Athletics Director Andy Fee said. “Today we need to be more conscientious about our mascots and affiliations. We strive for inclusive excellence here, and we need to do that in everything we do.”
Along with the new BE/\CH logo, LBSU will adopt darker colored uniforms and graphics. There is also a new dark stain on the Walter Pyramid floor that features the “LB” logo at center court for the first time ever. Fee said he wants the colors and style of the university logos to match the grittiness of Long Beach, and that multiple names for the department isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Multiple names make us unique,” Fee said. “I don’t think there’s harm. I think we create more of a story about celebrating who we are, whether it’s the Dirtbags, or The Beach, or potentially whatever comes forward in terms of a new mascot. I’m not worried about it because I think if we do the right things, we don’t need to worry about that. People are going to know that we have a great men’s volleyball team, and they’re not going to be so worried about what logo is on the front of their jersey. What’s more important is what happens inside those uniforms.”
Yes, he said new mascot, and to Fee’s credit he’s continuing to be transparent. LBSU fans voiced their opinions on Wednesday night at Joe Jost’s where he hosted a Town Hall meeting to discuss the issues. There are two more scheduled in the coming month, and Fee took questions on a range of topics. He also said there is “more to come” on the mascot issue.
No matter what happens at LBSU, sports mascot and name changes are the way of the future, so make sure you save all of the sports gear you own. They might become collectors’ items.