If defense of the Demons
Washington’s beloved “Demon” mascot has come under fire lately. Not only will the school have to change its logo for copyright infringement, but there is a movement afoot to replace the mascot altogether with something less satanic.
Before I get too deep into this topic, let me start by saying that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I did not graduate from Washington High School but rather from Pocahontas Area High School, four hours away in a different part of the state.
Interestingly, my high school is among those embroiled in an ongoing mascot controversy. We are, like many schools in the country, the “Indians.” Our girls’ teams are known as the “Maidens.”
The NCAA has sought to eliminate references to Native Americans in collegiate athletics, which is why the Syracuse “Orangemen” became the Syracuse “Orange.” The trend has not yet caught on at the level of Iowa High School athletics, but it’s on the horizon.
We talked about our mascot in school, and some teachers were opposed to it. But by and large the students were happy with the name and there was little interest from the administration in changing it. When I was in school, my attitude was that the Indian/Maiden logos on our jerseys and on our school walls were not intended to offend Native Americans but to honor them.
My views have evolved on the mascot controversy. I can see why a Native American would not want to be made into a caricature of any kind, no matter how positive it seemed to the rest of us. Furthermore, since sport pits one side against another, the schools with Native American mascots tend to portray American Indians as war-like people, regardless of how accurate that stereotype is.
The Washington Demons, however, are a different kettle of fish. Most mascot controversies involve racism or the denigration of a minority group. To the best of my knowledge, demons have never appeared before the school board to complain about their unfair portrayal.
The debate in Washington seems to be about how seriously we should take the concept of “demons,” traditionally thought of as evil spirits that inhabit the underworld and can make humans very ill by possessing their bodies. By putting demon faces on our buildings and helmets, we risk trivializing them.
If you look at human history through the ages, you’ll notice that demons play a prominent role. And what you’ll also notice is that in every case, the harm to society was caused not by demons but by the people who believed in them.
The witch trials in Europe and North America in the 1500s and 1600s are the clearest illustration of the carnage wrought by this belief. In this time period, about 40,000 people were killed because they were accused of practicing witchcraft, sorcery, black magic or channeling evil spirits.
Putting demon faces on the jerseys does, indeed, trivialize them. And for the better. Washington should keep its mascot, not for any nostalgic reasons, but to show that this society has moved into the modern era and is no longer beholden to the superstitions that have plagued mankind for centuries.