Thursday, September 17, 2009

When Changing Your School Nickname Is A Bad Idea

Eastern Michigan University changed the nickname of its many athletic teams to "Eagles" in 1991. Prior to that year, Eastern Michigan athletic teams were known as the "Hurons".

The Hurons were a unique, fierce and very interesting, woodland Native American tribe located in regions of Quebec, Ontario and throughout much of the Ohio Valley of the United States. In the 1840s many Hurons were even displaced by military force to far flung areas of Kansas and Oklahoma. Sadly, there are only about 4,000 Hurons left in the United States and Canada, and most refer to themselves today as the Wyandot tribe.

As for Eagles, well, let's just say there isn't a more common school nickname in the entire state of Michigan than:

Most Common High School Nicknames in the state of Michigan:

Eagles 43
Panthers 29
Wildcats 27
Vikings 26
Bulldogs 24
Trojans 21
Cougars 19
Falcons 18
Cardinals 17
Tigers 17

Aside from "Eagles", the other options on the table at the time apparently were the EMU "Green Hornets" and EMU "Express".

So yeah, there were many EMU students, alumni and faculty at EMU who were disappointed, and even outraged, by the name change from historic Hurons to the more politically correct Eagles back in 1991 because they felt that the Hurons nickname was not a racial epithet or derogatory toward Native Americans at all. It's interesting too that EMU went ahead with the decision anyway, despite a number of other schools like the University of Illinois, Central Michigan University, and Florida State University maintaining their more regional, Native American school nicknames for their athletic teams. Some EMU alumni continued an online campaign to bring back the historic Huron nickname for the school and claim to have support from elders of the Huron/Wyandot tribe.

I'm not superstitious. Far from it. But it is somewhat interesting to note that prior to the EMU nickname change to the Eagles, EMU's Hurons football team winning percentage was 45.5% (245 wins, 264 losses and 30 ties) since 1929.

Following the name change to the "Eagles" in 1991, EMU has won only 29.6% of their games (60 wins, 142 losses and 1 tie).

In fact, EMU football's last winning season was 1989 when they finished 7-3-1. EMU's last bowl appearance was the 1987 California Bowl in Fresno, CA when they knocked off the San Jose State 30-27. In both instances, they were still known as the Hurons.

The most successful era of Eastern Michigan football was the 1950s when the Hurons were 49-37-2 over 88 games with a winning percentage of 56%.

I fully understand the pressures associated with these nickname changes. But in the case of Eastern Michigan, I cannot help but think an opportunity was missed to maintain athletic tradition at the school, honor Native Americans and the Wyandot/Huron nation, and raise the historic consciousness of Americans at the same time.

Once a Huron, Always a Huron.

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