Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish leprechaun is the fourth-most offensive college football mascot in the nation, according to a new survey. The top three most offensive mascots, the survey says, wear face paint, headdresses and are culturally insensitive to Native Americans.
When presented with the survey results by IndyStar, Notre Dame emailed a response that included a written statement defending the leprechaun and highlighting its history.
“It is worth noting … that there is no comparison between Notre Dame’s nickname and mascot and the Indian and warrior names (and) mascots used by other institutions such as the NFL team formerly known as the Redskins,” the statement read. “None of these institutions were founded or named by Native Americans who sought to highlight their heritage by using names and symbols associated with their people.”
At Notre Dame, the university said, the Irish have been an integral part of the school since its beginning and played a key role in adopting the name.
“Our symbols stand as celebratory representations of a genuine Irish heritage at Notre Dame,” the university said, “a heritage that we regard with respect, loyalty and affection.”
The Fighting Irish mascot came under fire in 2018 when ESPN’s Max Kellerman called on Notre Dame to do away with the leprechaun as Cleveland’s major league baseball team did with its mascot, Chief Wahoo.
“Many Irish-Americans are not offended, but many are,” Kellerman said in a Wall Street Journal article. “Should that also change? The answer is yes. Unequivocally yes. Pernicious, negative stereotypes of marginalized people that offend, even some among them, should be changed.”
More:Notre Dame defends leprechaun mascot, ranked college football’s 4th-most offensive in study
The mascot study was conducted by Quality Logo Products, an Illinois company that prints logos on T-shirts, water bottles and other items.
As the college football season approached, the company identified 128 Division 1 football team mascots and asked people to score them based on different categories, ranging from best and worst mascots to creepiest and most offensive.
Notre Dame’s leprechaun was named fourth-most offensive, behind Osceola and Renegade of Florida State, the Aztec Warrior of San Diego State and Vili the Warrior of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
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Notre Dame said its nickname, Fighting Irish, began as a term used by other schools to mock its athletic teams.
At the time, anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant sentiments were strong. Because Notre Dame was largely populated by ethnic Catholics – mostly Irish, but also Germans, Italians and Poles – the university was a natural target for ethnic slurs, it said.
At one football game in 1899, Northwestern students chanted “Kill the fighting Irish,” Notre Dame said.
As the school’s football team gained national prominence in the early 1900s, journalists began to use the “fighting Irish” phrase in their stories.
“Soon, Notre Dame supporters took it up, turning what once was an epithet into an ‘in-your-face’ expression of triumph,” the university said.
The Fighting Irish nickname was made official in 1927 when university president Father Matthew Walsh, of Irish descent, adopted the name.
As for the leprechaun, Notre Dame said, it is “symbolic of the Fighting Irish and intentionally a caricature.”
Notre Dame went on to note the leprechaun began in England — as a disparaging symbol of Irish people.
“Irish-Americans — including those at Notre Dame — again have turned back on former oppressors as a sign of celebration and triumph,” the university wrote. “In both the upraised fists of the leprechaun mascot and the use of the word “fighting,” the intent is to recognize the determination of the Irish people and, symbolically, the university’s athletes.”
No matter what Purdue Pete does, he can’t get away from his eerie, disturbing appearance. He can’t even smile at the kids whose parents say are scared by him. His face is set in an eternal scowl. His eyes are huge and empty. His face, a monster size version of a ventriloquist dummy.
Purdue has tried for decades to reincarnate Pete — this is his seventh revamp — yet he always comes out looking pretty much the same.
Creepy. So creepy that Purdue Pete was named the creepiest mascot in America in the study. Purdue Pete also landed the second-worst mascot in the nation,
“What makes a mascot creepy? Is it a blank stare, intimidating facial expression or disproportionately large head?” the survey said. “Purdue Pete, of Purdue University, is the proud owner of all three, landing him squarely at the top of the list.”
Pete leads the top three ahead of Cayenne of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (No.2) and Pistol Pete of Oklahoma State (No.3).
Read full survey results.
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.