Lesson for college presidents: Before announcing a new mascot and team name, place the new name into your favorite search engine and see what happens.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania provides an excellent case study. The university is among those that have been fighting over their Native American-related team names with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. After losing appeals to keep the "Indians" name, the university announced this month that its teams would be called "Crimson Hawks."
Crimson and gray are the university's colors and Indiana County, Pa. is home to many hawks. Sounds simple, and no NCAA guidelines would be violated.
In announcing the name change, the university noted some of the steps it had taken in making the choice. Three open forums were held. Alumni and employees were surveyed. Committees reviewed a total of 170 name submissions. But apparently nobody bothered to check Google, at least not until a local sports columnist did.
Matthew Burgland of The Indiana Gazette
wrote last week that he wanted to know: Just what was a crimson hawk? So he checked Google. Here's what he found:
"The first link you come to is for a Web site of an adults-only cartoon starring a blonde, busty woman named Crimson Hawk. The site claims to be the home of 'the world's sexiest, most powerful and most frequently defeated, humiliated and ravished superheroine.'" (The site has since made its content off-limits, but a thoughtful blogger posted an image of said superheroine, with the headline "Keep Her Away From the Stanford Tree!")
Lest you think Burgland is some sort of politically correct columnist, he noted that the cartoon character isn't a winner the way one wants teams to be. "No joke. IUP's student-athletes now share the same name as an adults-only cartoon. Not only that, it's a cartoon of a 'superhero' who is usually embarrassed by the opposition. Good choice, IUP."
There may be hope for the university to avoid those associations. While some colleges have ended up in lengthy legal battles over Web sites with their names, the owner of Crimson Hawk is cooperating with the university.
Via e-mail, he said that that he did not think the material on his site was "particularly explicit," but said he was "moving to a new domain solely out of respect for the university. They have not asked me to."
He added that it was "unwise of IUP to choose a mascot without conducting preliminary research, but hopefully this will not cause them any further embarrassment."
Pennsylvania newspapers have reported that the owner is a Duke University graduate student, but he declined to confirm that fact.