The Reason The University Of Nebraska Altered Their Mascot

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The University of Nebraska's mascot has long been Herbie Husker — a cowboy-hat-wearing farmer with a football tucked under his arm and an ear of corn in his pocket, according to the Flatwater Free Press. Herbie became the Nebraska mascot after the 1973 season, making him the oldest current Cornhuskers mascot — Lil' Red, his cutesy counterpart, appeared in 1993, per the Omaha World-Herald. Since that time, Herbie has been a fixture at Nebraska games and is a beloved icon of the Big Ten — he even stars in a children's book (via Amazon).

But Herbie Husker is being redesigned — because of fears that his hand gesture could be interpreted as a white supremacist symbol. Herbie was usually depicted as making an "OK" hand sign, with the pointer finger and thumb pinched together in an "O" and the other fingers fanned out — a common hand sign, but recently recast by internet trolls as a "white supremacist" hand gesture.

The problem with "OK"

This, of course, was never Nebraska's (or Herbie's) intent. "That hand gesture could, in some circles, represent something that does not represent what Nebraska athletics is about," said Lonna Henrichs, the Nebraska athletic department's licensing and branding director. "We just didn't even want to be associated with portraying anything that somebody might think, you know, that it means white power," per The Hill.

When Henrichs was informed of this newer meaning, she responded by asking the department to change Herbie's hand gestures to a "No. 1" symbol — one finger pointing upward. Nebraska merchandise going forward will be printed with the newer design.

The hand symbol wasn't invented by a white supremacist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League, but by hoaxers on the site 4chan, who chose the hand sign exactly because it was common and innocuous. The idea was to try to paint a widespread gesture as a cancelable act — similarly, trolls tried to paint "dabbing" and even applauding as problematic.

In the case of the OK sign, however, the symbol was then actually adopted by white supremacists, putting the symbol in uneasy territory. The ADL classifies it as a situationally dependent hate symbol even as, it acknowledges, "most usage of it is completely innocuous."