DENVER—Maybe Boone just wasn’t buff enough.
The University of Denver dumped Boone, its chubby, white male mascot, after officials decided he “does not reflect the broad diversity of the DU community,” but now a search committee has proposed three new figures–including a ripped, white male mountain-climber.
The university’s Mascot Steering Committee released last week drawings of three prospective mascots—an elk, a jackalope, a guy with a pick-axe who bears a strong resemblance to Eric Decker—and sent out 75,000 surveys to alumni, students and others asking for their feedback.
“We appreciate the great level of enthusiasm our DU community has expressed in this process and look forward to a future in which we will have an official mascot again!” said a post on the DU website.
So far there has been a great level of enthusiasm, but it’s been mainly for bringing back Boone. Comments posted on the university’s Facebook page, “Participate in creating the new Denver Pioneer Mascot,” indicate that DU alumni are not yet ready to let bygones be bygones when it comes to Boone, who was dropped in 1998.
“I look forward to selecting the Boone option,” said Matthew Prythero in a June 23 post.
The mascot would be named “Pio,” short for Pioneer, the university’s nickname, but alumni were quick to insist that none of the mascot choices embody that image.
“Boone is a Pioneer,” said Sean Keefe in a July 2 post. “When I look at Boone I think of a mascot who is/was railroaded because an undergrad wanted to impress a pushy, politically correct professor. Just name them the ‘Fighting Soros’ and be done with it.”
Other alumni asked why Boone was unacceptable, but the “mountaineer,” who’s also a white guy, albeit one in better shape, appears to be okay with the search committee.
“[T]he mountaineer is a symbol of a strong, white, male . . . I thought we were trying to be inclusive,” said Erin Orchard on another Facebook page, “I Support Denver Boone for Mascot of DU.”
Responded the website administrator: “[The] Mascot Steering Committee deemed it appropriate and they based this whole process on choosing an inclusive mascot. They wouldn’t propose an option that isn’t inclusive. So the mountaineer is inclusive, and there is no argument saying otherwise, because those in charge of choosing an inclusive mascot found it to be inclusive.”
DU spokeswoman Kim DeVigil said the difference between Boone and the mountaineer is Boone is a pioneer, and pioneers were known to have killed Indians.
“In 2013, let’s have a mascot everyone agrees on,” said DeVigil. “It’s not pitting one mascot against another.”
Setting aside the obvious problem with the Boone-as-killer narrative—he was drawn by Walt Disney Studios and looks about as dangerous as one of the seven dwarves–alumnus Jason Starr said university officials are perpetuating a negative stereotype about pioneers with their anti-Boone sentiment.
“[T]he University is making a statement that ‘western pioneers’ were bad people, unworthy of being a school mascot,” said Starr in a June 24 post. “MY ancestors were western pioneers, some who were actually famous for being advocates of the rights of Native Americans. How is it not offensive to me to have the school….MY school…play up a negative racial stereotype against MY forefathers?”
DeVigil also said that the mountaineer was not intended to be white. “I wouldn’t focus on the racial aspect,” she said. “He was designed to be any race. He could be Indian, as in from India; he could be Middle Eastern; he could be German, he could be anything.”
The university isn’t wedded to the three options, said DeVigil, and could go back to the drawing board if the prototypes lack support. The three finalists were the result of 45 focus groups, 15 open forums and several one-on-one interviews with DU community members.
“It’s a painstaking way to go about it, but we want to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, so we can get a mascot everyone can live with,” said DeVigil.
The university’s last foray into mascot territory came with Ruckus, a red-tailed hawk who was introduced post-Boone and pulled a few years later.
“Ruckus didn’t really catch on,” said DeVigil. “Nothing against Ruckus, but we’ve had no mascot since 2008.”
Critics say the problem with the non-pioneer options is that the school’s nickname continues to be the Pioneers.
“The Elk is Ruckus, Part II. An effort to make a very strained connection between an animal and a Pioneer,” said Paul Upsons in a July 1 post. “It didn’t work the first time, and it won’t work this time, either.”
The committee is accepting comments until mid-July. The DU Board of Trustees will make the final decision on the proposed mascots, according to the school’s website.
A 2008 survey found that 87 percent of the DU community supported reinstating Boone, but DU Chancellor Robert Coombe quickly nixed efforts to bring back the pioneer in the coonskin cap.
“The Denver Boone figure is one that does not reflect the broad diversity of the DU community and is not an image that many of today’s women, persons of color, international students and faculty, and others can easily relate to as defining the pioneering spirit,” said Coombe in an October 2008 email to students.