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The Story of the Stanford Cardinal

Technically, Stanford does not have mascot, instead it has two distinct symbols. The school logo shows a redwood tree and its sports teams are known as the Cardinal. For more than 40 years, Stanford was known as the Indians. However, as time went along, the mascot became offensive and politically incorrect. The mascot had to go, but how did Stanford decide to switch to its current Cardinal moniker and tree insignia?


For as long as sports have been common in America, the naming of a mascot has been a rite of passage. In many ways, a mascot symbolizes all that the team stands for. A large number of schools and professional sports teams have named their mascots after the Native American people. While some may not find it offensive, the general consensus on the matter in the present day is that it is racist as it calls unwarranted attention to a group of people.

The Indians was adopted as the university’s mascot in 1930, a full 45 years after its founding. This was largely influenced by Stanford’s coach Pop Warner who had previously coached at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. That school’s goal was to immerse its student population into white culture. Beginning in 1952, Timm Williams, a man with no connection to Stanford, became their living mascot and stayed with the university for the next 20 years.

Stanford enjoyed the years Williams spent with the school but in November of 1970 their relationship changed. A group of Native Americans represented objections to the Dean of Students believing the Indian mascot to be racist. His performances were believed to be a mockery of Native American religious practices. In January of 1971, the Native American students approached University President Lyman on the matter. In February of the following year a formal petition was signed by 55 Stanford students and staff. The Indian mascot was officially removed shortly after the petition was signed. In December of 1975, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) voted in solidarity with the administration’s decision to ban the Indian mascot forever.

The Cardinal

Stanford had lost its mascot and was desperately looking for a new identity before the 1972 school year began. It didn’t need to look farther than Palo Alto, California. The official logo of Palo Alto is a redwood tree and Stanford decided to implement it in their marching band as well as in their official school symbol. Stanford’s color is cardinal red and it decided to name its sports teams the Cardinal. This was actually not the first time that Stanford was known as the Cardinal. The first time they were called the Cardinal was in the first Big Game against Cal in 1892. Local sports writers wrote that the “Cardinal Triumphs O’er Blue and Gold”. Red often signifies ambition, determination and a pioneering spirit, all qualities which Stanford so strongly emphasizes. Since the 1972 school year, the Stanford Cardinal has been beloved by all with no controversies to the name. It stands as the identity of a truly unique university where one can be the pioneer of their own dreams.

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