According to a survey, Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish leprechaun is the country’s fourth most offensive college football mascot. The top three most offensive mascots apply facial paint, wear headdresses, and are culturally insensitive to Native Americans.
The Fighting Irish mascot came under fire in 2018 after ESPN’s Max Kellerman suggested that Notre Dame drop the leprechaun in favor of Chief Wahoo, the mascot of Cleveland’s major league baseball team Indy Star reported.
In a written statement responding to IndyStar’s inquiry, Notre Dame defended the leprechaun and outlining 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.”
Quality Logo Products, an Illinois company that prints logos on T-shirts, water bottles, and other items, is undertaking the mascot study.
As the college football season approached, the company identified 128 Division 1 football team mascots and asked users to rate them based on various criteria, including greatest and worst mascots, creepiest and most offensive mascots, and so on.
‘Fighting Irish’ origin
The school said that Notre Dame’s moniker, Fighting Irish, originated as a slur used by other institutions to ridicule its athletic teams.
Anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant sentiments were strong at the time. The university was a perfect target for ethnic slurs because it was predominantly occupied by ethnic Catholics—mostly Irish, but also Germans, Italians, and Poles, it said.
During a football game in 1899, Northwestern students screamed “Kill the Fighting Irish,” according to Notre Dame.
Journalists began to use the phrase “fighting Irish” in their tales as the school’s football team rose to national prominence in the early 1900s.
“Soon, Notre Dame supporters took it up, turning what once was an epithet into an ‘in-your-face’ expression of triumph,” the university said.
When university president Father Matthew Walsh, of Irish heritage, adopted the term in 1927, it became official.
As for the leprechaun, Notre Dame said, it is “symbolic of the Fighting Irish and intentionally a caricature.”
The leprechaun, according to Notre Dame, originated in England as a derogatory representation of Irish people.
“Irish-American—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.”
In New York, some sports fans say there’s no need to be concerned about mythical creature mascots, New York Post reported.
“People are taking it too serious. I mean, it’s a leprechaun. What are we saying—that leprechaun movies are offensive, too? It’s part of the Irish mythology,” said Andrew, a Brooklynite who declined to give his last name. “People shouldn’t read too much into it. Go to the game and have fun.“
Dan, a 56-year-old football fan who’s part Irish himself, added, “[Critics] are going too far. It’s taking the fun out of everything.”
On the other hand, other New Yorkers believe that all emblems of cultural insensitivity should be banned.
“If a mascot—any mascot—is offensive to anyone, it should be reconsidered,” said Jean, a 25-year-old actor. “A mascot is a silly thing but why hurt someone’s feelings?”