“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here isn’t whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests—we did. But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg: Isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”
—Tim Matheson as Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House
When will this insanity stop?
In a story that’s gotten sparse national attention, students at new Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Utah selected “Cougars” as their school mascot and team nickname. The school board, however, has overridden their decision, citing complaints from some parents, and is imposing the nickname “Chargers” instead. The primary complaint?
The term “cougar” might offend middle-aged women who like to date younger men.
Yes, when someone tells us they’re rooting for the Cougars, don’t we all immediately assume they’re hoping Demi Moore shows up? I’m frankly disturbed that it even occurred to anybody, much less that it put such a burr under their saddle that they complained about it. Is this how thin our overly-P.C. sensitive skin has become?
Let me put this in perspective. Twelve colleges call their teams the Cougars. Here in Texas, where high school football is king, I count 26 schools whose teams take the field under the banner of Cougars. In other words, it’s a pretty common mascot. These P.C. nazis in Utah make it sound like the kids wanted to call their team the "N*ggers," which of course is patently offensive, and would never be acceptable; but the N-word has no other meaning or connotation. In other parts of the world, rape victims are convicted of adultery and stoned to death. Yet here in the land of the free and—ironic drumroll, please—the home of the brave, we worry about things like whether the choice of a nickname that everybody understands refers to a big cat is somehow going to offend someone.
At least we have our priorities in order.
And I don’t buy the Board’s secondary excuse that other Utah schools also use “Cougars,” and the name plus the school’s colors of blue, silver, and white are too close to those of BYU. High schools mimicking major college programs’ nicknames and color schemes is nothing new or controversial. Here in Texas we have 12 high schools duplicating the University of Texas’ “Longhorns,” with four of them also using Texas’ colors of orange and white. The board is simply trying to cover their obvious cowardly cow-towing to stupid P.C. pressure.
This crusade against team names and mascots that might hurt someone's feelings has been around a long time. In 2005 the NCAA finally succumbed to the P.C. blitzkrieg and cited 18 member institutions for having “hostile or abusive” mascots, all but ordering the schools to drop them. The NCAA may actually have had a point in cases like the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savages, where the nickname itself has an inherently derogatory connotation (not unlike the N-word). But in other instances such as the Florida State Seminoles (eventually granted an exemption) and the North Dakota Fighting Sioux the nicknames were nothing more than respectful references to groups of people with direct and obvious connections to their states’ history, similar to the Oklahoma Sooners, the West Virginia Mountaineers, or the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Alas, common sense gives way to knee-jerk overcorrection, and we take a sledgehammer to a gnat.
So American Indian references (regardless of taste or historical context) are taboo as choices for school team nicknames, and now they’re coming after predatory animals. What’s next? If we’re going to indulge in this level of silliness, let’s carry it to its logical conclusion. Here are some other nicknames/mascots—yes, all the examples below are real—that are also going to have to go the way of the do-do bird, lest we bruise someone’s tender sensibilities:
- Fighting Irish, Fighting Scots, Ragin’ Cajuns suggest that people of Irish or Scottish descent or descended from French-Canadian immigrants to Louisiana have bad tempers.
- Flying Dutchmen suggests that people from Holland take drugs.
- Pirates, Buccaneers, Raiders, Marauders, Vandals promote crime.
- Matadors promotes animal cruelty and offends PETA.
- Camels promotes smoking.
- Orediggers might offend younger women who like to date older wealthy men.
- Sharks might offend local men who like to date tourist women—fins to the left—and certain urban bankers.
- Rainbow Warriors might offend men who like to date other men.
- Red Foxes might offend attractive women, and fans of Sanford & Son.
- Mules might offend stubborn old people.
- Blue Hens, Badgers might offend nagging housewives.
- Quakers, Friars, Deacons, Saints, Bishops might offend atheists.
- Crusaders might offend Muslims.
- Red Devils, Blue Devils, Sun Devils might offend Satan-worshippers.
- Huskies might offend big-boned people.
- Patriots might offend people in other countries.
- Coons (no joke—Frisco HS, Frisco, Texas) might offend rednecks or blacks.
- Thoroughbreds discriminates against people of mixed heritage.
- Spartans makes light of poor people.
- Cavaliers makes light of casual or indifferent people.
- Ramblin’ Wreck makes light of people with crappy cars.
- Steers might upset men who have lost their testicles to cancer or injury.
- Longhorns, Bulls, Stags, Bucks, Rams, Goats, Ducks, Bison, Buffaloes might upset vegans.
- Cornhuskers, Aggies might upset those with gluten allergies.
- Black Knights might upset people with flesh wounds.
- Crimson, Cardinal, Orange, Mean Green, Maroons, Big Green, Big Red might upset people who are color-blind.
- Volunteers might upset Bill Clinton.
- Lions, Tigers, Bears might upset Wizard of Oz aficionados.
- Gamecocks, Beavers might upset prudes.
- Trojans—do I really have to explain?
As you can see, this zeal to avoid offending people quickly devolves into the absurd, and it doesn’t leave much left from which to choose. But we could go further. Given that team nicknames and even school colors really only serve to distinguish one group of people from another, shouldn’t they ALL be done away with as inherently discriminatory/divisive? While we’re at it, there are any number of school fight songs that include demeaning or even violent references to rival institutions—why, some might even call them “hate speech”—that have no place in our genteel modern society. In fact, now that I think about it, sporting contests by their very nature stigmatize the loser, so shouldn’t we stop the games altogether and encourage students instead to engage peacefully with their colleagues at other schools in friendly sing-alongs and maybe some group interpretive dance?
Somewhere, this silliness has to stop. It’s like we’ve put ourselves into a giant version of Twister where you not only have to stay on the dots, but you can’t touch another player or they’ll bruise beyond recognition. We’re eventually going to become so soft that the Iranians aren’t going to need a nuclear weapon to whip us; Ahmedinejad is simply going to call us the pussies that we’ve become, and we’ll drown in our own tears crying over our hurt feelings.
Life is a contact sport, folks. At some point we all have to grow a little bit of callous, and as Dennis Miller ranted on this very subject in 1994, do everyone else the courtesy of not treating them like they're a Faberge egg. Language is an imperfect tool. There’s always going to be a way to twist words into something someone somewhere could find a little offensive if they really try. We have to have the common sense to distinguish between words with a primary meaning that is overtly and deliberately hurtful on the one hand, and those that in their common usage have an obvious and universally understood meaning that has absolutely nothing to do with whatever special interest group might twist them to find them offensive.
A cougar is a cougar. A big freaking cat. Get over it.