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Hawking a New Mascot

Posted in Branding, Squirrelly Thoughts, Trademarks

The big mascot news over the past year has been in the NFL, as Washington fights to maintain its registrations for the REDSKINS mark. As that dispute continues, the University of North Dakota tried to put to rest its longstanding issues regarding its previous use of the name “The Fighting Sioux.”

In 2012, UND dropped the old nickname. It was a long drawn-out battle between the NCAA, university administration, the North Dakota legislature, and others. In the end, it took a statewide referendum to enable the school to drop the name. But the issue wasn’t exactly resolved as UND never adopted a new nickname. Instead, they were simply “North Dakota,” or for those unable to not personify a school in the form of a nickname, “The North Dakota.” The name doesn’t exactly lend itself to a great mascot costume:

Possible Mascot - UNDNotwithstanding the aesthetic disadvantages, the mascot would be particularly susceptible to gusts of wind, which could present an issue on the plains of North Dakota.

Also, while “North Dakota” was going through its naming process, its intrastate rival North Dakota State University was getting its fair share of publicity. After all, all NDSU did was win back to back to back to back FCS titles (with a #3 seed in this year’s playoffs). I imagine it must have been a bit irritating to continue to correct sportscasters and members of the public that UND was the other North Dakota, not the one with all of those national titles.

In order to fix the problem, the school held a vote to determine the new nickname. Among the choices were Nodaks, Roughriders, Sundogs, Fighting Hawks, and the North Stars. Apparently the Frackers didn’t make the list. Votes were cast and, just last week, UND announced that the winning nickname was “The Fighting Hawks.” But did UND simply trade one controversial name for another?

I may be biased, but when I hear “The Fighting Hawks,” I can’t help but think of my alma mater of the University of Iowa and its Hawkeyes. Although the name is officially the “Hawkeyes,” we all know that when someone says “hawks,” they’re talking about the Iowa Hawkeyes. Among Iowa fans, “Go Hawks” isn’t just a cheer. It’s a greeting. See a friend on the street but don’t have time to say hello? A quick “Go Hawks!” does the trick just fine. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a friend. If an Iowa fan sees an unknown stranger anywhere in the U.S. or around the world with a Hawkeye hat or shirt, there is a 95% chance that a “Go Hawks!” will be exchanged.

Okay, sure, there are other Hawks out there too. On the pro side there are Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Blackhawks. In college, there are probably too many to name, including the Dickinson State University Blue Hawks, also located in North Dakota. However the timing certainly is suspicious. After all, the Iowa Hawkeyes have gone undefeated in football this year and are currently slated to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff (FYI: in addition to typing, I am also presently knocking on wood and throwing salt over my shoulder). And did I mention that Iowa just set the record for attendance at a wrestling meet, while knocking off the top ranked team in the country? Or that the Hawks are also on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Sure, it’s only a regional  cover, but do you know what state is included in that region? North Dakota.

Look UND, I can see why you would like to ride the coattails of Iowa’s popularity and success. You’re not the only one, either. The University of Southern Mississippi tried to capitalize on the iconic Iowa Hawkeye tiger hawk logo. It even led to an opposition at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (If you’re curious, Iowa is undefeated there, too). Heck, the fame of the Iowa Hawkeyes extends beyond the shores of the U.S.: even international pop groups use the Hawks to improve their image.

Perhaps though, in the spirit of the holidays, we can let this one slide. So for now, Happy Thanksgiving – and Go Hawks!