The University of Nebraska-Lincoln felt the necessity to change their mascot’s well-known hand gesture in a logo for the school’s athletics department. They had received complaints about connections that it may have to white supremacy.
Herbie Husker is the Cornhusker’s mascot for the University. The new image on the logo appears on the school apparel and it shows Herbie holding one finger up signifying No. 1, according to NBC News. The former image on the logo had the mascot making an “OK” hand sign with his index finger and thumb making a circle while the other three digits are raised. The university indicated that it made the change to avoid the alleged connection between the “OK” hand sign and white supremacy.
The university athletics department made this statement, “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 process of changing the logo began in 2020, and we updated our brand guidelines in July of 2021.”
It seems that the athletic department began working on this change in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. The Flatwater Free Press from Nebraska first reported on the story.
They wrote that internet trolls and white supremacy groups have tried to turn the “OK” sign into a symbol of white power. They claim that three fingers up for a W and the circle and palm form a P. Some think that this insight gave Herbie’s hand sign a potential meaning that the creators never intended.
The Flatwater Free Press also said, “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.”
Henrich’s told the Flatwater Free Press that the hand gesture could, with some people, represent something that does not represent what Nebraska athletics is all about. She said that the department did not want to be associated with portraying anything that someone might think means white power.
She added that they made the change as quickly as they could.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that the “OK” hand sign should be added to its list of white supremacist gestures in 2019. The league stated that the use of the okay symbol in most contexts was innocuous and harmless. But that the symbol began to be co-opted by white supremacists in 2017.
In that year, the hand gesture got a new and different significance due to a hoax by a member of the website 4chan. They used it to falsely promote the gesture as a hate symbol and claimed that it represented the letters “wp” for “white power.”
This hoax from 4chan was just the latest in a series of hoaxes that focused on various innocuous symbols. Those who initiated the hoax hoped to get the media and liberals to overreact and condemn an image, according to the ADL.
The league says that the overwhelming usage of the “OK” hand gesture still has its traditional purpose as a gesture that signifies assent or approval. They said that if someone uses the gesture, it should not be assumed that they are using it to signify white supremacy unless other contextual evidence exists.
Since 2017, many people have been falsely accused of being racist or a white supremacist for using the hand gesture in its traditional context.