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Long Beach State’s ‘Prospector Pete’ Bushwhacked

September 21st, 2018 · No Comments · Journalism, Long Beach, NFL

And another mascot bites the dust.

The Forty-Niner mascot sometimes known as Prospector Pete was 86’d yesterday by the president of the California university most commonly known as Long Beach State.

Activists from the school’s faculty and student body had agitated for the ousting of the Forty-Niner mascot on the grounds of genocide perpetrated on Native Americans living in California during and after the 1848-54 California gold rush — which brought something like 300,000 Americans to the state in a half-dozen years.

(Long Beach State was founded in 1949, so as a mascot … of course, the Forty-Niner! Or so went the thinking, 70 years ago.)

One might think earlier interlopers into California from Spain and Mexico contributed more to the high mortality rates experienced by American Indians. By 1846, Spain or its successor state, Mexico, had been having their way in California for most of a century.

But more than a few historians believe that California’s Indians didn’t really reach a crisis until the arrival of the Forty-Niners, whose herd animals unsettled the natives’ ecosystem, and whose Old World diseases spread quickly and often proved fatal to the indigenous population.

What happens next?

The school will take down a statue of Prospector Pete that stands on the upper campus and will put it in storage until a new alumni center is built. Which perhaps I might go see, considering I am an alumnus of the school.

As it turns out, the cartoon version of Pete is grotesque, reminiscent of a taller Yosemite Sam of Warner Bros fame. I like the bronze statue, put in place in 1967, which is interesting and dignified.

Administrators will consider their options, when it comes to replacing the Forty-Niner. The Cal State system apparently has recommended that schools avoid mascots based on people: That way, yesterday’s heroes don’t become tomorrow’s villains.

It has been suggested that the school could call for a vote by students on a new mascot. Could that mean something irreverent like the Anteaters (UC Irvine) or Banana Slug (UC Santa Cruz) is on the way to Long Beach State’s sports squads? Or perhaps a color, like Harvard’s crimson or Stanford’s cardinal or Dartmouth’s green?

Not all Long Beach State teams will be worried how that goes. The baseball team, probably the most reliably competitive program on campus, already has its own nickname: The Dirtbags.

Which works for the baseball guys, but not so much for basketball or volleyball.

These are the sorts of issues that galvanize many college campuses, which are more politically strident at this minute than at any time since the Vietnam Era of the late 1960s into the early 1970s.

Even after the decision to give up the Forty-Niner, the name will not immediately go away. The school has 49er Shops and the 49er Foundation and the campus’s student newspaper is known as The Daily 49er.

School president Jane Close Conoley suggested the school might switch, in the short run, to making clear which “49” it is invoking.

“That was a brilliant and a blinding flash of the obvious the other day,” Conoley told the Long Beach Post, “when we realized that the controversy is really about 1849, and we were never the ‘1849ers,’ we were always the ‘1949ers’ and so we’ll start inserting that 19 in there.”

Now that this is finished, and the Long Beach State Forty-Niner has been vanquished … does the resistance now move on to a much bigger target?

The five-time Super Bowl champions from San Francisco are known, after all, as the 49ers.


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