Former Warrior mascot addresses stereotype

For three years Mark Denning was a First Warrior, the mascot of Marquette when the school nickname was the Warriors. His likeness graced Marquette flags and shirts.

Although the nickname was changed to the Golden Eagles in 1994, the issue of American Indian nicknames for sports teams still exists, and Denning explained those issues in front of 30 people Wednesday evening.

Denning, who said that appearance was his first ever discussing his role as a First Warrior, was a Marquette student from 1979 to 1983. He said he went to Marquette to learn about other cultures and religions, because he was a "sheltered child" on his reservation in Menominee. His relatives were involved in both violent and non-violent Indian movements seeking respect for the culture and beliefs of the Indians.

Shortly before he came to Marquette, Denning said, the Warriors had a mascot named "Will E. Wampum." His job was to entertain the crowd by pretending to scalp people and picking up women cheerleaders. American Indian students were not happy with the character, so they asked the university to drop the Warrior name. As a compromise, the university asked the Native American students to represent themselves, and First Warrior was created.

"At the time, Marquette wasn't doing anything unusual," Denning said. He showed jerseys and hats from various teams, including the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians.

The original First Warrior was openly gay, however, and knowledge of his sexual orientation caused a lack of respect for the character, Denning said.

A friend suggested Denning to take the First Warrior role, thinking that it would help the status of American Indians on campus. He did so for three years, but it was not easy for him: Some students considered him gay and did not respect him because he had taken the role of a gay person, many students wanted Will E. Wampum back and so shunned him, and he had doubts of his role improving the status of American Indians on campus. However, when he appeared at other college campuses, he was greeted with cheers.

Eventually, the First Warrior died out when no one, Indian or otherwise, wanted to take over the role.

Denning went on to explain that not all Indians are offended by their depictions in sports.

"Mascots and logos are not necessarily a bad thing," Denning said.

He then turned the tide on whites, explaining that it was as easy to characterize the average white American as it was to stereotype an American Indian. He said that he had seen a "Little Indian Basketball Camp," and wondered why there could be no "Little White People Lacrosse Camp."

To make a "white people mascot," he characterized white people as bald, with glasses, "in a mosh pit dancing to polka music."

However, he said that many people did not intend to be offensive when using Indian names in sports.

"I get it when someone says, 'we don't want to make fun of you,'" he said. During a brief discussion session after his lecture, he said that those who want to bring back the Warrior nickname to Marquette may have a "loyalty to memories" or "loyalty to success" for alumni.

Attendees at the speech said that they liked Denning's style of speaking.

"It was very interesting to hear the history," said Neal Styka, a freshman in the College of Engineering. He said that he did not know whether the use of Indian sports mascots intentionally offended.

The speech was sponsored by Jesuit University Students Together in Concerned Empowerment.