Last night, the BCS, a tradition since 1998, came to an end. Change, as many will argue, for the better.
71% of you reading this may not think that the Washington NFL franchise should change their nickname. Perhaps an even higher percentage do not think that this year’s BCS Championship might be that much better should the No.1 ranked Florida State University reconsider using the name of the Seminole people. Nor the “Tomahawk Chop”. Nor the pre-game ceremony featuring a young white man in redface and wielding a flaming spear.
A recent poll suggests that the number of people that are thinking about the necessity of changes away from these offensive symbols is actually growing.
No matter your stance on the issue of Native American images, names, and references in sports, our nation is deep into a dialogue concerning their continued use and acceptance. Thankfully, an increasing percentage of our society is becoming more familiar with the views of actual, living, thinking, writing and tweeting Native Americans. As much as this issue concerns billion-dollar sports franchises and state-owned universities, it also directly involves and affects these Native people as whole communities and as individuals.
Mark McLawhorn is not one of these people. He’s white, not Native American. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, works as an Associate Creative Director for University Communications at North Carolina State University, and draws and posts mascot-based cartoons for his website, wolfpackcartoons.com. He is not who most people think about when they envision the individuals affected by the use of offensive mascots and names. I am not going to try to make an argument that Mark, as a white man, is negatively affected by these mascots and names in the same way or to the same deleterious degree that Native people, children and communities are stereotyped, disrespected, and dishonored.
Instead I’m going to share with you recordings of Mark speaking candidly with me about the difficulty and particular problems that these mascots and names cause for him, a white cartoonist with a passion for sports mascots.
Speaking with Mark on the phone, I first asked him how he got started creating Wolfpack Cartoons.
I then asked him where he gets his inspiration and ideas as he is choosing how to depict a mascot.
I then shifted the conversation to ask Mark about his approach to creating the cartoon that had caught my attention and led me to contact Mark for an interview: the cartoon for NC State’s game against Central Michigan. Although they are nicknamed the “Chippewas”, Central Michigan uses no imagery or other reference to Native people in their sports branding.
Mark’s Central Michigan cartoon from 2011 and William and Mary from 2008.
He continued to elaborate on how he approached the lack of a Central Michigan Chippewa mascot and why.
Mark’s Central Michigan cartoon from 2013.
With NC State being in the ACC, the conversation seemed to naturally turn towards how Mark deals with the recurring challenge of representing the mascot of the top-ranked Seminoles.
Mark’s FSU cartoons: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012
At this point, the tone of our conversation shifted slightly, which is the primary reason I am presenting this interview as audio recordings rather than as a written transcript. I asked Mark for his thoughts concerning how he intended to deal with Florida State’s mascot in future cartoons.
Mark is right. This is a continuing discusion which we as a nation, culture, and even as individuals, are continuing to have with ourselves. Regardless of where we end up, no one of us knows at this moment where that will be. Change may be inevitable, but what would that change look like? Who gets to say? Dan Snyder, yes. Opponents to the name, in some way, even if indirectly, yes. Native voices across the US and Canada are finally being heard. Thankfully, a white cartoonist with a day job in university communications is continuing these conversations with himself and with us through his work.
Mark and I made these recordings on October 4, with the Wolfpack set to play the Seminoles in Tallahassee on the 26th. Checking back with his website, I saw the beautifully rendered cartoon which Mark chose to run for that week’s matchup. Mark later wrote me an email to say that the lack of an FSU cartoon was more coincidence and that he “just plain ran out of time” rather than an intentional omission. Nonetheless, we’re curious to see how things work out for next year’s match-up between the Wolfpack and the defending BCS Champions.