Despite the combined high school football teams in Juneau, Alaska coming up with a new mascot just last month, it’s already been sidelined due to its “potential” as a racial slur.
In early February, Thunder Mountain, Yaakoosge Daakahidi, and Juneau-Douglas high schools elected the “Thunder Bear” as their new mascot, which beat out “Capital City Senators” and the “Orcas.”
However, just yesterday a student committee declared “Thunder Bears” would have to be reexamined “after an alternative meaning was discovered online.”
According KTOO, a Juneau-Douglas sophomore said she heard a student using the new name “offensively” in class, and then expressed concern “that allowing it to continue as the district mascot would promote racist stereotypes.”
According to a 2004 entry on UrbanDictionary.com, a site “known for assigning raunchy meanings to otherwise harmless words,” Thunder Bear can be a term for people who drink too much, usually applying to Native Americans.
The majority of testimony and public comment supported keeping the mascot. About 30 community members listened as school board member Emil Mackey testified that he had looked up the other mascots considered besides Thunder Bears on Urban Dictionary.
He pointed out that both “orca” and “senator” have offensive definitions on the website. “Bear” and “falcon,” the district’s existing high school mascots, also have alternative definitions.
Mackey argued that deciding what is or isn’t offensive off of an unmoderated online post could allow anyone to influence future decisions by making up posts online. …
Thunder Mountain senior Josh Quinto testified that the Thunder Bear has in fact been an unofficial mascot for the district for several years. He said the districtwide drama, debate and forensics club and the joint high school wrestling team argue over who came up with it. …
Quinto said he doesn’t understand the criticism surrounding the name. He is Alaska Native, and has grown up hearing about the racism his grandmother and mother have faced in their lives, but said neither of them consider the term offensive.
“To me this all seems kind of silly. It reminds me of when there was the big joke about the Starbucks cup just being red, being offensive,” Quinto said. “That’s kind of how I’m seeing it as someone who knows how my parents and grandparents faced racism.”
The student committee eventually will “discuss potential options for a replacement” to Thunder Bears … but it’s not a given that it will be changed.