Is It Just A Nickname?

When I was ready to attend college, I wanted to be a Fighting Sioux.

OK, that’s not true. Actually, I wanted to be a lawyer, which meant I would either have to go out of state for law school or attend UND.

But I went to what is now known the University of Jamestown because (1) I felt it had the best tools I needed to get to law school, (2) I was offered $20,000 in scholarships, meaning I wouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for higher education, and (3) I liked the campus atmosphere and professors.

You know what wasn’t on that list? A unique, inspiring and unforgettable nickname. I’m not going to speak for everyone, but I have a feeling that is the case for most students. When I eventually chose a career in journalism, it was my education and skill, not a nickname, that landed me a job.

It made me wonder this week: Why do people, even those who have no stake in the process, care so much about the UND nickname?

Here’s a better question: Does the nickname even matter or is it just a symbol?

Let’s stop and think about why everyone was so upset about losing the Fighting Sioux moniker. It had been part of the school for the better half of a century. It’s been the source of pride and honor. Some say it was a gift from North Dakota’s Sioux tribes.

Then the NCAA came in to say the nickname was offensive — essentially telling the school and fans they are a bunch of racists — and threatened sanctions if the nickname wasn’t retired. If someone told me they were going to take away something I had all of my life, I would be upset, too.

Add salt to injury by taking away the option, — playing as North Dakota or UND — many voters supported. The best chance of unofficially keeping the Fighting Sioux alive was gone. Their anger is understandable.

But at the end of the day, how much does a nickname or logo contribute to a university’s success? Yes, it serves as a symbol for the college, it can help with marketing and it is a logo fans, students, alumni and others can stand behind. But is it so important that it persuades donors to give money to a college or that it sparks protests and public outcry?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. A university’s main function is simple: attract students and provide high-quality education, while making enough money to pay teachers, cover expense and improve the college.

Those goals entail steps, such as gathering funds to improve the campus, keeping students, offering activities and, yes, having reputable sports teams.

But I find it hard to believe that a student or athlete decides to go to a school because a recruiter said, “Check out our awesome mascot.” I’d imagine any employer who hires a worker because he or she likes the applicant’s college moniker is not going to stay in business. And I know parents don’t want to hear it, but of the 8 million high school athletes in the U.S., less than 6 percent will play college sports, and depending on the sport, 1 to 8.6 percent of college student athletes will play sports professionally, according to the NCAA.

Sports are an important revenue source and recruiting tool for colleges. But have a backup plan, athletes, especially if you are choosing a school because it has a screeching blue hawk as a logo.

And while we are on that subject, Dickinson State University wants to protect its right to using the shortened Hawk name, but they should know former Bismarck Mayor Marlan “Hawk” Haakenson might say he had first dibs. But DSU has bigger problems, and the last thing it needs to worry about is someone cheering the shortened version of one of the most common college nicknames in the country.

My point is, a nickname can be something people stand behind and be proud of, but it’s probably not as important as some claim. A nickname is not going to get a student a job, it’s not going to guarantee a hockey team wins championships and it won’t grow a university’s prestige and facilities.

When donors say they will pull funding because a mascot is changing, they are not thinking about the best interests of the university and its students. It’s downright childish when fans constantly throw tantrums because they couldn’t have their way.

After a generation or two, the Fighting Sioux moniker will fade into a memory and most will have moved on in support of the university and its students. For those who refuse to do so, I hope you enjoy living in the past as you pout over your Sioux memorabilia.

A university is meant to provide students with higher education. As a business, a university must make choices to improve its facilities and the programs it offers.

At the end of the day, it’s just a nickname. Now that UND has a new one, let’s get to the real business.

5 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Says the lady who is white and has only ancestry from white settlers who take and take because they feel everything is theirs. Not only that but feel they are right because education told them so. Education forgot to teach you who this country really belongs to.

    1. April Baumgarten

      Look at you, judging a person for the color of their skin.

      This column wasn’t about race or who should own the country. It’s about how important a mascot is to the prosperity of a school, which is very little.

      But thanks for making it about race and hiding behind an anonymous name.

  2. Herald Unsubscriber

    Disregarding content for the time being, this was a difficult read. There is sloppy wording throughout and some phrases are simply incorrect. A very poorly written piece, especially coming from an editor. Who edits the editor’s writing?

    “Add salt to injury” – Do you mean add insult to injury or salt in the wound? Two very common but different idioms. They do have similar meanings but don’t play well when combined.

    “But is it so most important that it persuades donors…” – Not sure what the word most is doing in there.

    “…applicant’s’…” – Two apostrophes? That’s a new one.

    Now on to content. It’s bad form and doesn’t reflect well upon the publication as a whole to insult readers with opposing views as is done in the third-to-last paragraph. Especially readers which you’re presumably trying to sell news subscriptions to. Instead have some tact, acknowledge their point of view, but state your case for changing their mind, rather than writing that you hope they enjoy their pain.

    As far as the importance of the nickname; I think it’s extremely important. Marketing is huge and one of their target markets is high school students. High school students with deep pockets and an eye for uniqueness and status. A fighting hawk isn’t unique. And it will never be ranked as one of the most identifiable mascots in the country.

    1. April Baumgarten

      Thank you for the corrections. It was edited and we try to catch mistakes, but we are human. The ones you mentioned have been corrected.

      Speaking of grammar, I think you mean “Especially for readers to whom you are presumably trying to sell news subscriptions.”

      As for “add salt to injury,” I would argue that is correct since it is an idiom that means to cause additional pain. Adding insult to injury would mean to embarrass someone after they are hurt. In this instance, people were hurt further after losing the nickname, though some may have been embarrassed by the school.

      Also, I felt I did acknowledge that logos can serve as a symbol, but overall it’s the school’s programs that attract students, not a mascot.

      Also, keep in mind that this is an opinion piece and is not representative of the Herald’s views. While I attempt to be as unbiased as possible in news articles, I am allowed to have an opinion, and I’m not about to shape those opinions just to get a few more subscriptions, especially to someone who is an unsubscriber. Though we do welcome comments.

  3. I’m not a writer, and I’m sure I make many grammatical mistakes. Feel free to critique me. It might be good practice.

    You’re not quite there yet. Your definition for adding insult to injury is correct, but in light of your intended message, you should have used the second idiom I suggested in my original post. Let me explain why.

    An idiom functions by drawing upon its underlying literal meaning to emphasize the phrase it’s modifying. Your phrase “add salt to injury” is sloppily worded, imprecise and can leave a reader confused. Think about it this way: Concussions and sprains are both common injures. Does sprinkling salt on your head or sore ankle make the injuries hurt any worse? No, it just makes you appear to have dandruff. Thus the reader is easily confused and left to guess at what you mean.

    Let’s look at “add salt to the wound” as I had initially suggested. The word WOUND is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “an injury that is caused when a knife, bullet, etc., cuts or breaks the skin”. I emphasize the words “breaks the skin”. Now imagine adding salt to a paper cut. This greatly increases the pain by generating a sharp burning sensation. This is why this phrase “salt in a wound” is useful; the reader immediately identifies with the increase in pain and applies that imagery to the phrase it’s modifying.

    It’s not difficult. If the underlying imagery is faulty, so too is the clarity of the writing.

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