From Billikens to Banana Slugs–Judge Evans’ Lesson on College Mascots (Evans)

banana slugs

Banana Slugs – Mascot for U.C.-Santa Cruz

[Judge Terence T. Evans, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, passed away in 2011. Here’s a nice tribute to him on the Marquette law school (where he attended law school) faculty blog.]

In an opinion involving controversy over “Chief Illiniwek,” mascot of the University of Illinois since 1926, Judge Terence Evans of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit once again showed his dominance as the nation’s premiere judicial sports buff.

A group of students and faculty who believed the mascot degraded Native Americans brought suit against the university chancellor, seeking a declaratory judgment that the chancellor’s order banning all speech directed toward prospective student athletes without prior permission violated their First Amendment rights. The students and faculty wanted to contact prospective student athletes regarding the controversy.

The court found the policy violated the plaintiffs’ rights, but before getting to the merits, Judge Evans took a substantial detour into sports mascot trivia:

In the Seventh Circuit, some large schools–Wisconsin (Badgers), Purdue (Boilermakers), Indiana (Hoosiers), Notre Dame (The Fighting Irish), DePaul (the Blue Demons), the University of Evansville (Purple Aces), and Southern Illinois (Salukis)–have nicknames that would make any list of ones that are pretty cool. And small schools in this circuit are no slouches in the cool nickname department. One would have a hard time beating the Hustlin’ Quakers of Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana), the Little Giants of Wabash College (Crawfordsville, Indiana), the Mastodons of Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and the Scarlet Hawks of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

But most schools have mundane nicknames. How can one feel unique when your school’s nickname is Tigers (43 different colleges or universities), Bulldogs (40 schools), Wildcats (33), Lions (32), Pioneers (31), Panthers or Cougars (30 each), Crusaders (28), or Knights (25)? Or how about Eagles (56 schools)? The mascots for these schools, who we assume do their best to fire up the home crowd, are pretty generic–and pretty boring.

 “Some schools adorn their nicknames with adjectives–like “Golden,” for instance. Thus, we see Golden Bears, Golden Bobcats, Golden Buffaloes, Golden Bulls, Golden Eagles (15 of them alone!), Golden Flashes, Golden Flyers, Golden Gophers, Golden Griffins, Golden Grizzlies, Golden Gusties, Golden Hurricanes, Golden Knights, Golden Lions, Golden Panthers, Golden Rams, Golden Seals, Golden Suns, Golden Tigers, and Golden Tornados cheering on their teams.

 All this makes it quite obvious that, when considering college nicknames, one must kiss a lot of frogs to get a prince. But there are a few princes. For major universities, one would be hard pressed to beat gems like The Crimson Tide (Alabama), Razorbacks (Arkansas), Billikens [Fn.2]

 [Fn.2] What in the world is a “Billiken”?

(St.Louis), Horned Frogs (TCU), and Tarheels (North Carolina). But as we see it, some small schools take the cake when it comes to nickname ingenuity. Can anyone top the Anteaters of the University of California-Irvine; the Hardrockers of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City; the Humpback Whales of the University of Alaska-Southeast; the Judges (we are particularly partial to this one) of Brandeis University; the Poets of Whittier College; the Stormy Petrels of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta; the Zips of the University of Akron; or the Vixens (will this nickname be changed if the school goes coed?) of Sweet Briar College in Virginia? As wonderful as all these are, however, we give the best college nickname nod to the University of California-Santa Cruz. Imagine the fear in the hearts of opponents who travel there to face the imaginatively named “Banana Slugs”?

From this brief overview of school nicknames, we can see that they cover a lot of territory, from the very clever to the rather unimaginative. But one thing is fairly clear–although most are not at all controversial, some are. Even the Banana Slug was born out of controversy. For many years, a banana slug (ariolomax dolichophalus to the work of science) was only the unofficial mascot at UC-Santa Cruz. In 1981, the chancellor named the “Sea Lion” as the school’s official mascot. But some students would have none of that. Arguing that the slug represented some of the strongest elements of the campus, like flexibility and nonagressiveness, the students pushed for and funded a referendum which resulted in a landslide win for the Banana Slug over the Sea Lion. And so it became the official mascot.

Not all mascot controversies are “fought” out as simply as was the dispute over the Banana Slug. Which brings us to the University of Illinois where its nickname is the “Fighting Illini,” a reference to a loose confederation of Algonquin Indian Tribes that inhabited the upper Mississippi Valley area when French explorers first journeyed there from Canada in the early seventeenth century. The university’s mascot, to mirror its nickname–or to some its symbol–is “Chief Illiniwek.” Chief Illiniwek is controversial. And the controversy remains unresolved today. …”

Even if you’re not a sports fan, you have to appreciate a federal appellate judge who uses phrases like “pretty cool” and “pretty boring” in his opinions. I wonder if he talked like that during oral arguments. “Counselor, that was a pretty cool motion you filed the other day, but it was pretty boring.”

R.I.P. Judge Evans. You are missed.

Crue v. Aiken, 370 F.3d 668, 671–72 & n.2 (7th Cir. 2004). Thanks to Professor Howard Wasserman, a decent sports trivia buff in his own right.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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