It's not unusual for colleges to update their mascots in the interest of pure marketing modernization, but decision-making behind the University of Nebraska's new-look Herbie Husker is a true reflection of our times.
As reported by The Associated Press, Nebraska made the change to its cartoon mascot to eliminate any confusion over the "OK" hand gesture he had made since the early 1970s. Herbie's left hand made the "OK" sign with the index finger and thumb forming a closed circle, but some now connect that gesture with white supremacy, with the three straight fingers representing a W and the circle representing part of a P to communicate allegiance to the "white power" movement.
Herbie's left hand now makes the well-known "We're No. 1" sign with only his index finger raised.
The revision was so subtle that Scott Strunc of Omaha, owner of one of the largest Huskers merchandise stores, said he didn't notice it until it was shown to him by a reporter. Strunc said he had no idea the "OK" sign could have a different meaning. but he understands why the university made the change. "It's just the world we live in," he said, as reported by The AP.
The Anti-Defamation League lists the "OK" hand gesture in its Hate Symbols Database and explains how the altered meaning originated on an internet bulletin board five years ago, The AP reported.
The ADL description: "A common hand gesture that a 4chan trolling campaign claimed in 2017 had been appropriated as a symbol meaning 'white power.' Used by many on the right -- not just extremists -- for the purpose of trolling liberals, the symbol eventually came to be used by actual white supremacists as well. Caution must be used in evaluating instances of this symbol's use."
"The concern about the hand gesture was brought to our attention by our apparel provider and others, and we decided to move forward with a revised Herbie Husker logo," the Nebraska athletic department said in a statement to The AP. "The process of changing the logo began in 2020, and we updated our brand guidelines in July of 2021. The revised logo is now the only Herbie Husker mark available to licensees."
Fans seemed to understand the decision.
“Nebraska isn’t a political institution," one fan tweeted, as reported by Sports Illustrated's The Spun. "It’s a pretty darn conservative university choosing to ditch a mascot flashing a sign that offends some people. It seems understanding and kind."
“Kudos to the University of Nebraska for being proactive," said another. "Not about 'Woke Culture'… It’s about common decency and respect for others. There are a few others that should follow suit…”