As someone who remembers growing up watching the University of Utah Runnin’ Redskins and a graduate of the school who owns far too many items with the drum-and-feather logo on it, I know all about the current controversy about the Ute nickname. It’s widely discussed at tailgating parties and in the stands.
I have mixed feelings about it.
On the one hand, I’d like to think the name is a source of pride to the Ute Indian Tribe, which continues to approve its use. Its uniqueness is another plus. The name speaks to the origins of the name of our state. I’m not certain it is any more offensive than the Fighting Irish, the Vikings or the Celtics.
That said, if the Ute tribe withdraws its approval or finds the use of the drum and feather offensive, the University of Utah will almost certainly be forced to find a new nickname.
With the institution of Swoop, the red-tailed hawk mascot, some fans have suspected school officials of slowly setting up a name change. Most fans I know don’t like it. Though the red-tail is common to Utah, so is the cougar. Both are boring nicknames.
So what should the Utes become?
As a lover of the Great Salt Lake, I have two suggestions. How about the Fightin’ Brine Shrimp or the Lakers?
Can you imagine what a cool mascot a brine shrimp would be? And, though most Jazz fans hate the Lakers, the team has won a lot of championships. I’m certain that our Great Salt Lake dwarfs any lake in Los Angeles.
The Red Rocks, the name the Ute gymnasts use, would not be a horrible choice. It certainly celebrates Utah’s geography, though picturing a mascot dressed as Delicate Arch is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Utah Zions, Red Buttes, Arches or Peaks?
Since our state loves its guns, how about the Utah Gunners? The mascot could dress as a Browning M1911 pistol, the official state gun.
Looking at other official Utah state symbols, could they be called the Elk, the Beehive Clusters (the state astronomical symbol), the Dutch Ovens, the Cutthroats, the Coppers (copper is the state mineral), the Blue Spruces or the Spanish Sweet Onions?
Considering the awful air inversions we have experienced in the valley as of late, perhaps the nickname could be the Foghorns. New logo gear could feature the block U on the side of the mountain partially covered by haze.
The U. could go all out to reinforce its reputation as a bastion of liberalism in the state by becoming the Utah Liberals. The mascot could do yoga on the sideline and throw granola bars into the crowd.
Or, considering the Legislature’s lack of funding for higher education, how about the Utah Ostriches, a bird known for sticking its head in the sand to ignore problems?
Perhaps the school could celebrate some of its major academic disciplines. The Utah Geneticists? The Engineers? The Communicators? The Geologists?
Like the alliteration of the Utah Utes? How about the Utah Unicorns? Since league titles have become almost mythical since the school joined the Pac-12, that might apply.
Utah is known for its dinosaurs, so why not the Utah Dinosaurs, T-Rexes or Velociraptors? Can you imagine what a cool mascot a velociraptor would make?
Thinking about all these possibilities makes me hope the Ute tribe continues to give its blessing to keeping the Utes and the school can find ways to honor the tribe by educating all of its students and fans about the history of the tribe and the sacred nature of the drum-and-feather logo.