Seattle U. Might Switch Mascots -- School Is Concerned Indian Image Might Be Offensive

Seattle University is thinking of replacing The Chieftain, its mascot of 61 years, with something less offensive to Native Americans.

A task force of administrators, professors and students is almost ready to recommend that the university dump its mascot name and logo, which features an Indian chief in profile.

Nancy Gerou, athletic director at SU, says she has a list of 15 or 20 possible names and mascots, but says the university isn't ready to choose yet. People or groups, however, are out.

"It would be more appropriate to choose an object or an animal," Gerou said.

The task force will hold a public hearing next Wednesday, then it will be up to the university's cabinet to decide whether the mascot goes, or stays in a modified fashion.

Eric Davis, director of the office of minority affairs, says the university has been thinking about changing its mascot for a long time, out of concern some people may be offended by the use of a stylized Indian as an icon.

"Folks have come to realize that you can't rally around something that community members will perceive as offensive," Davis said.

Two events have prompted the action. In December, SU was accepted into the Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which will give it more exposure. And this year the Associated Students of Seattle University, in particular president Jason Madrano, have pleaded for a change.

The word chieftain means leader of a clan or tribe. It comes

from the Middle English word "cheftayne," which in turn comes from the Latin "capitaneus," or captain.

At Seattle U., the Chieftain name and logo date back to 1938, when it was credited to Ed Donohoe, who covered sports for the university's student newspaper, The Spectator. Donohoe was fed up with the old team name, "The Maroons," a name that opponents would debase to "Morons" or "The Marooned," so he began calling the team "Chieftains" in his stories, according to Walt Crowley's "Seattle University: A Century of Jesuit Education."

Donohoe, who went on to fame as the curmudgeonly editor of the Washington Teamster newspaper before his death in 1992, chose the name to honor Chief Seattle, the Suquamish chief whose name the city bears.

Seattle University has asked for opinions from local Indian leaders, who have urged the school to choose a new mascot.

"I'm sure all of the sports teams and universities took those actions originally out of respect toward Native Americans," said Bernie Whitebear of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. "But it's now developed into an animosity."

Whitebear contends that sports fans beating drums and hooting war cries conjure up "negative images of Native Americans in our schools."

Seattle U. soccer coach Peter Fewing, who served on the task force, said at first he was opposed to changing the mascot, but he has since changed his mind.

"We are emotionally tied to The Chieftain," Fewing said. "My guys enjoyed being called the Chieftains. I feel like I've been educated. Initially, I thought we weren't offending anybody."

Mark Burnett, Director of Alumni Relations, says his office is asking alumni for comments about changing the mascot. So far, there hasn't been a strong reaction, he says.

Megan Diefenbach, a Seattle U. admissions counselor who played soccer as an undergraduate at the university, says she's still attached to the mascot but can see why people would want a change.

"I certainly don't want a mascot that is offensive to a segment of the population," she said.

Roberto Sanchez's phone message number is 206-464-8522. His e-mail address is: ------------------------------- Mascot forum

Wednesday's forum on the Seattle University mascot is from noon to 1 p.m. in Wyckoff Auditorium on the university campus. It's open to students, faculty, staff members and alumni.