"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

An "Ultimate" Mistake

My first real exposure to Marquette's nickname obsession was at my graduation ceremony in 2004. The commencement speaker was Wayne Sanders, a wealthy alum who offered $2 million if Marquette University would change the nickname back to Warriors. The offer was refused, but that was only the beginning of a torrid debate that led to Marquette's Board of Directors changing the nickname to the short-lived "Gold" before a voting process settled back on Golden Eagles.

On May 24, 2021, the checkered nickname past was reignited by the Golden Eagles Alumni TBT team when they suddenly announced they were changing their name to "Ultimate Warriors." To this writer, it smacked of irony that this team decided to pay homage to a racist homophobe as a way of calling back to a nickname awash in racist iconography. For younger readers, this may need more explanation. The Ultimate Warrior was a professional wrestler who rose to prominence in the 1990s. However, the individual that played the role, born Jim Hellwig, changed his name to Warrior and also became known for racist and anti-Semitic comments he made during speaking engagements. I would recommend starting with this Vice article on the past of Jim "Warrior" Hellwig. Anonymous Eagle also dug into why Warrior was problematic, and their article is particularly salient given its recency and focus on this specific decision.

This Ultimate Warriors logo is a clear homage to Warrior's image

The decision by Golden Eagles Alumni to change their name is a mistake. First of all, there can be no disputing they are attempting to honor Warrior when they do this. The new logo is a clear representation of Warrior's signature facepaint and ties the team to Warrior himself. As Warrior chose to legally change his name, the reality is there is no separating Ultimate Warrior the wrestling character from Warrior the racist homophobe. The two are one and the same. And because of that, this new moniker is one that represents those ideals, whether intended or not. A simple Google search would've revealed the problems inherent in paying homage to Warrior.

To make this poor decision even worse, any use of the Warriors name when associated with Marquette will always hearken back to the nickname that was in use from 1954-1994. While some try to paint this as a proud legacy, the reality is that this is imagery Marquette University at the time chose to associate with that nickname:

Former Marquette mascot Willie Wampum

For anyone unfamiliar with the use of racist iconography in sports mascots, you're looking at it. Marquette is not the only university that had to reckon with this in its past. Stanford, St. John's, and Syracuse made similar changes to distance themselves from the racism inherent in caricature nicknames. Professionally, the Washington Football Team and Cleveland Indians are going through the process of changing their names now and frankly should have long ago.

Let that sink in. The Golden Eagles Alumni chose a racist homophobe to call back to a time when Marquette had a blatantly racist mascot. This is a disgraceful decision not just to the people managing that team, but to the university and fanbase they are associated with.

In addition, as the Golden Eagles Alumni TBT Twitter account interacted with two Tweet responses to their announcement, there can be no doubting they have seen the negative reactions to the announcement as well. As of this writing, there are 46 responses directly to the tweet, 40 of which are either negative or point out why this was a poor decision. Maybe they could've plead ignorance when this was posted, but when you are seeking out and interacting with the small percentage of positive interactions, it's dishonest to pretend you don't see the landslide of negative ones. At this point, continuing down this road is a deliberate statement not only that they are okay with the racist, homophobic connections to Warrior but also that they want to recall a past that Marquette University has spent decades trying to distance itself from.

There are those that will try to point to the Golden State Warriors as an example of why this is all okay. Maybe in an alternate reality, if Marquette had walked away from racist iconography completely in the 1960s like Golden State did, they would still be the Warriors today. They didn't, so they aren't, and that ship has sailed.

Students react to the Gold announcement in 2005

Maybe in an alternate reality, the above picture never would've surfaced. It shows students displaying a mix of disgust, disbelief, and outright laughter at the name Gold when it was announced in 2005. But was it really that different from Harvard's Crimson or Stanford's Cardinal? It could've been unique and over time would've been embraced, because what's the alternative?

Maybe we would've been Hilltoppers, or Golden Avalanche, or Jumpin' Jesuits. But all those maybes are just that. Alternate realities that don't change where we are now, which is a program that has been Golden Eagles for 27 years, long enough that the first Golden Eagles' children could be graduating as Golden Eagles today. Marquette has tried to leave its racist past in the past. It's time for the Golden Eagles Alumni TBT team to do the same, even if that past means walking away from a bad decision they made just days ago.