‘I’m just a bird trying to make a living’
Last Friday afternoon my old high school trotted out its new sports mascot, a raven, at its football home opener. Resplendent in purple feathers and sporting a large felt beak, the bird trudged its way across the track and took its place in front of the cheerleading squad, and in a valiant effort to drum up a little crowd enthusiasm began flapping, jumping and doing what I suppose ravens do to call attention to themselves.
But all the bird received was jeers. The crowd actually taunted the raven, and after a few moments just ignored it completely. Why would a lovable animal mascot be the subject of such derision? Why was my home community (Redwood City, Calif.) so anti-raven? We here in this column decided to uncover the answers.
So here, for the first time anywhere, is an interview with the raven.*
ME: Thanks for being here, raven.
RAVEN: It’s completely my pleasure.
ME: First, tell us a little about yourself.
RAVEN: Well, I’m the largest all black bird in the world. I can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, equally at home hunting for prey over an arroyo in the Arizona deserts, or tumbling through the skies amidst the loftiest peaks in the Himalayas.
ME: What is the difference between yourself and a crow?
RAVEN: The raven is a member of a very successful family of birds, the Corvidae, which also includes jays, magpies and crows. Many people confuse ravens and crows, and even experienced bird watchers slip up now and then. Ravens have larger, stouter bills than do crows, and the tip of the upper beak is more downcurved. Ravens also have shaggy throat feathers and a wedge-shaped tail.
ME: I have to ask: The Sequoia High School sports nickname still is the Cherokees. So why a raven?
RAVEN: This is a sensitive issue. A couple of years ago, a group began a drive to remove the Cherokees nickname, contending that it was an insult to Native Americans. After months of debate, it was decided to keep the nickname, but change the mascot. Does that make sense?
RAVEN: The team is still referred to in the press as the Cherokees. There is even a newly painted sign on the side of the gym that reads: Home of the Cherokees. But when it comes to a mascot, students are not allowed to dress up as Indians. Oops, I should say, Native Americans. Thus, the raven.
ME: That has to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.
RAVEN: Not so! School district officials consider it a noble compromise, giving a nod to tradition, yet taking into account the sensitivities of native peoples. The raven itself is a proud, compromising bird.
ME: How have you been received so far?
RAVEN: Reviews have been mixed. Generally, people seem confused. Since their school mascot has been known for more than 100 years as the Cherokees, students and alumni seem disoriented when confronted with a large, purple bird. But we’re working on it.
ME: There seemed to be a lot of pointing and laughing this past Friday.
RAVEN: Yes, I was mocked. But that comes with the territory.
ME: Speaking of territory, no raven has been seen in this neck of the woods, ever.
RAVEN: Well, high school kids picked the name. California students don’t rank very high in history or zoology; I think choice No. 2 was the lemur.
ME: Are you worried about the image you project?
RAVEN: How do you mean?
ME: Well, it seems that you are in danger of becoming the anti-mascot, a symbol of political correctness gone awry. Go ahead and change the school nickname if you must, but a weak-kneed compromise of this nature does discredit to both the local community and to Native Americans. It satisfies no one, and you become the symbol of pandering politicians who try to be all things to all people.
RAVEN: I’m just a bird trying to make a living.
ME: According to recent figures, nearly 80 percent of all U.S. high schools with Native-American-themed sports nicknames have dropped those names, and many colleges have done the same. But at the top, pro sports franchises have refused to budge. We still have the Washington Redskins, for example. What does that say about us as a society?
RAVEN: I have to go now. I’m due at a water polo match.
ME: Our thanks to the Raven for being here. Next week, seafood recipes with former San Francisco Giants mascot Crazy Crab.
* Please do not throw objects at the raven. Do not shout at the raven, or attempt to startle him with loud hoots or whistles. No spitting. The raven is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Sequoia Union High School District.
— Rick Chandler’s interactive sports column, Capacity Crowd, can be found at
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