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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Woodling

Woodling: Jayhawk one jolly mascot

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No doubt Kansas University can lay claim to one of the nation's most memorable nicknames.

While many other schools are stuck with such mundane monikers as Bulldogs, Tigers, Bears, Cougars, Wildcats, Trojans and Spartans, KU's sports teams have always been known as the Jayhawks.

For decades, the official rendering of the mythical bird has been one of a smiling creature who wouldn't harm a fly (unless he was hungry, of course). Heck, the Jayhawk doesn't even have teeth.

The only remote hint of aggressiveness are the poultry-like spurs growing out of the Jayhawk's heels. And even those are anatomically incorrect because they're part of his, uh, shoes. I'm not sure why the Jayhawk is shod, but perhaps it's because bird feet are difficult to depict.

Anyhow, the contemporary caricature of the Jayhawk is one of a right jolly and friendly fowl.

Consequently, I was a little surprised the other day when I read a column penned by Wendell Barnhouse of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

In a reaction piece to the ruling that schools with mascots, nicknames or imagery deemed hostile or abusive to racial-ethnic-nationality groups must be ditched during the NCAA championships, Barnhouse included the Jayhawk among the no-no mascots.

That's right. The Jayhawk. The poor old Jayhawk. Say it isn't so. Oh, rara avis, bird thou never wert.

Why the Jayhawk? Barnhouse wrote, "A jayhawker was an abolitionist guerrilla of Missouri and Kansas in Civil War days; also, a robber or raider, a plunderer."

He's right. That's exactly what a jayhawker was. But KU's mascot is a Jayhawk, not a jayhawker. Big difference. In fact, the Jayhawk was not derived from those nasty jayhawkers, at least according to university lore.

Here's the official line: "During the Civil War, a regiment raised by Kansas Gov. Charles Robinson called itself the 'Independent Mounted Jayhawks.' By the end of the war, the word Jayhawk was associated with the spirit of camaraderie and the courageous fighting qualities that characterized efforts to keep Kansas a free state."

Putting it another way, Jayhawks and jayhawkers are like sinks and sinking. Jayhawks and sinks are good. Jayhawkers and sinking are bad.

As you may be able to tell, Barnhouse had a large portion of tongue in his cheek when he wrote about politically incorrect mascots such as the Idaho Vandals and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Isn't it an insult, after all, to associate Irishmen with fighting?

Barnhouse was also peeved that San Diego State will be allowed to keep its Aztecs moniker because Aztecs are not Native Americans, noting that "the NCAA's moral indignation stops at the U.S. border."

To tell the truth, you can probably find something offensive in a whole bunch of nicknames, even some in the Big 12 Conference.

Cyclones (Iowa State) are dangerous storms that can wreak havoc and claim lives. If you lost your home or, worse, a loved one in a cyclone, you wouldn't consider it an appropriate nickname.

At the same time, Aggies (Texas A&M) is often used in a derogatory way in reference to farmers or anyone else involved in agriculture. And Red Raiders (Texas Tech) is basically just another way of saying jayhawkers.

So there's your semantics lesson for today, folks.

You can chirp "Love those Jayhawks" all you want. But you had better not add the dreaded "er" to the end, or the next time a KU team appears in an NCAA championship they will be referred to in print as "nickname vacated" and over the air as "the Kansas J-Blanks."

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