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LSU has no plans to change its mascot despite online petition

Petition on Change.org claims ‘Tigers’ honors a Confederate regiment called Louisiana’s Tigers

Louisiana State University is not planning to change its Tiger mascot in the face of an online petition that contends the mascot is racist, a school official said in a statement Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, an anonymous author “LaMallori LSU” began a petition on Change.org to “Change the Racist Mascot of LSU!” The petition had 639 signatures in support as of Wednesday morning.

According to the petition, LSU’s mascot honors a Confederate regiment called Louisiana’s Tigers that represented the state in the Civil War.

Jason Droddy, LSU’s interim vice president for strategic communications, said in a statement Tuesday that the university is aware of the petition and that LSU’s mascot is more symbolic of the live tiger kept on campus:

LSU is aware of the largely anonymous petition suggesting the university change the mascot. The tiger mascot was adopted in the 1890s by the football team and was selected based on lore about the battlefield ferocity of a Louisiana regiment operating in Northern Virginia. However, the tiger has been used by militaries across time and geography. A more recent example is Gen. Claire Chennault, who attended LSU and led the infamous Flying Tigers in China during World War II.

The LSU Tiger mascot is much more closely associated with the live mascot housed on our campus. LSU acquired its first live tiger in 1924, but the current line of Mike the Tigers dates to 1936, when the name Mike was chosen to honor popular LSU athletic trainer Mike Chambers. Since that time, students, alumni, fans, and opponents have associated the mascot and moniker with LSU’s live mascot, Mike the Tiger. LSU is currently searching for Mike VII, and through its tiger mascot program has not only become a national leader in caring for tigers, but has also raised awareness of the plight of tigers in the wild.

LSU is not planning to change the Tiger mascot.

The author of the petition described how LSU’s first football coach, Dr. Charles E. Coates, wrote about where the name came from in a 1937 alumni column:

“The Louisiana Tigers had represented the state in Civil War and had been known for their hard fighting. This name was applied collectively to the New Orleans Zouaves, the Donaldsonville Cannoniers, and to a number of other Louisiana companies sent to Virginia, who seemed to have the faculty of getting into the hardest part of the fighting and staying there, most of them permanently. One company I knew of went in 200 strong; only 28 returned and many of these were wounded.

So ‘Louisiana Tigers’ went into the New Orleans papers and became our permanent possession.”

Author Dan Hardesty confirmed this in his book, LSU: The Louisiana Tigers, explaining that the “Louisiana Tigers … distinguished itself with its fighting spirit in the battle of the Shenandoah Valley, where it was said they ‘fought like tigers.’ ”

The same year LSU gave itself the nickname, the football team went 6-0 and outscored its opponents 136-4, so the name fit the action on the field.

Paul Hoffman, a professor emeritus in LSU’s history department, said the original “La Tigers,” the Zouaves, were unruly drunkards and that some members of the football team also subscribed to this behavior, making the nickname fit even more. Hoffman said there’s little doubt the name may have been part of a Confederate nostalgia movement called the “Lost Cause” in the 1890s.

In the petition, the author alleges that the Louisiana Tigers were “violent to the black slaves they owned, and later even more violent once those slaves were set free,” and that “it is incredibly insulting for any African-American to have to attend to a school that honors confederate militantism.”

Although the postwar behavior of the unit wasn’t the focus of his research, Hoffman said, he did not find any documents to support that claim. The professor also cautioned against taking Coates’ word as fact since he was speaking from memory in 1937 about what happened in 1896.

Hardesty noted in his book that the Civil War was nowhere close to being the first Louisiana unit with the nickname and LSU also started as a military school, meaning it wouldn’t be that far-fetched for the institution to adopt the name.

“As far back as 1845, in the Mexican War,” Hardesty wrote, “four different volunteer units from Louisiana used the nickname.

“The Washington Artillery Battalion from New Orleans used that name in the Mexican War and again in the Civil War.”

To this day, Louisiana military regiments still use the nickname: The Louisiana National Guard 256 Infantry Brigade is called the Tigers, and in 2004, Louisiana soldiers who were assigned to Camp Liberty in Iraq changed the name to Camp Tigerland.

Typically, colleges that change the mascots of their athletic teams are putting the kibosh on the use of references to Native Americans, such as:

  • Stanford University – Indians to Cardinal (1972)
  • University of Massachusetts – Redmen to Minutemen (1972)
  • Dartmouth – Indians to Big Green (1974)
  • Siena – Indians to Saints (1988)
  • St. John’s (New York) – Redmen to Red Storm (1994)
  • Miami (Ohio) – Redskins to RedHawks (1997)
  • Louisiana-Monroe – Indians to Warhawks (2006)
  • North Dakota – Fighting Hawks to Fighting Sioux (2012)

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.