The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has altered its mascot’s hand gesture in a logo for the school’s athletics after receiving complaints about connections to white supremacy.
The University changed the look of the image of the Cornhuskers’ mascot, Herbie Husker, that appears on school apparel to show Herbie holding one finger up, signifying No. 1, according to NBC News. The former logo had the mascot making and “OK” hand sign with his index finger and thumb forming a circle and the other three digits raised. The university said it made the change to avoid alleged connections between the “OK” hand sign and white supremacy.
“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 university athletics department said in a statement. “The process of changing the logo began in 2020, and we updated our brand guidelines in July of 2021.”
The athletic department began considering the change in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. According to Nebraska’s Flatwater Free Press, which first reported the story:
Internet trolls and white supremacy groups have tried to turn the OK sign into a symbol of white power, claiming the three fingers up form a W and the circle and wrist form a P.
That, in turn, gave Herbie’s OK sign a potential meaning his creators never intended.
The new meaning was brought to the attention of Lonna Henrichs, the UNL athletic department’s licensing and branding director, in July 2020, just weeks after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd’s murder prompted racial reckoning and protests across the country – including counter-protests where members of hate groups flashed the sign.
“That hand gesture could, in some circles, represent something that does not represent what Nebraska athletics is about,” Henrichs told the Flatwater Free Press. “We just didn’t even want to be associated with portraying anything that somebody might think, you know, that it means white power.
“We made that change as quick as we could,” she added.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says that the “OK” hand sign to its list of white supremacist gestures in 2019. The ADL states, in its description of the hand signal, that “[u]se of the okay symbol in most contexts is entirely innocuous and harmless.” The group claims that the symbol began to be co-opted by white supremacists in 2017.
“In 2017, the ‘okay’ hand gesture acquired a new and different significance thanks to a hoax by members of the website 4chan to falsely promote the gesture as a hate symbol, claiming that the gesture represented the letters ‘wp,’ for ‘white power.’ The ‘okay’ gesture hoax was merely the latest in a series of similar 4chan hoaxes using various innocuous symbols; in each case, the hoaxers hoped that the media and liberals would overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist,” the ADL states.
“The overwhelming usage of the ‘okay’ hand gesture today is still its traditional purpose as a gesture signifying assent or approval. As a result, someone who uses the symbol cannot be assumed to be using the symbol in either a trolling or, especially, white supremacist context unless other contextual evidence exists to support the contention,” the group says. “Since 2017, many people have been falsely accused of being racist or white supremacist for using the ‘okay’ gesture in its traditional and innocuous sense.”