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D.L. Stewart: Let’s have a cheer for the Amherst Hamsters

Amherst, a tiny college of 1,795 really smart scholars in Massachusetts, made news last year when the board of trustees voted to drop Lord Jeffs as its athletic teams’ unofficial mascot.

Lord Jeffery Amherst, historians discovered, was not necessarily a nice person. The 18th century British general reportedly once suggested giving smallpox-infested blankets to Native Americans. As he wrote to one of his colonels, “Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians?” The colonel replied with a suggestion to hunt down the Indians with vicious dogs. Amherst agreed that every effort should be made to “Extirpate this Execrable Race.”

When those disclosures became widely known, the school was embarrassed and probably would have been happier if its athletic teams had been nicknamed the Dirtbags (which, as it turns out, is already taken by Cal State Long Beach).

Not to mention, in this time of Title IX, there was the awkward gender confusion factor. What should they call Amherst’s womens’ teams? The Lady Jeffs? The Lady Lord Jeffs?

So now the school is considering a new politically correct, gender-neutral nickname: Hamsters.

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That was among the suggestions submitted to a committee that has narrowed the list to 30 semifinalists. Also in the running are Dinosaurs, Mammoths, Irradients and Fighting Poets. The school newspaper recommended Moose, after one wandered into the back yard of the school’s president. It would, the newspaper declared, make a perfect “Moose-scot,” proving that even really smart scholars can make terrible puns.

Admittedly, picking a nickname can be tricky, although it doesn’t necessarily need to make sense. Why, for instance, would a university in Ohio be nicknamed the Penguins? Sure, it gets cold in Ohio sometimes, but come on. And what in the world are Hoosiers, Hoyas, or Hokies? Who chose Billikens for St. Louis University, Dr. Seuss?

And you have to take political correctness into consideration, which is why Miami Redskins have become Miami RedHawks and Stanford Indians have become Stanford Cardinal.

In its favor, hamster is an anagram for Amherst. Still, why any team would want to be identified with a cute little rodent whose basic function is to spend most of its life running inside a wheel is not clear. Ideally, you’d like to send your athletic teams into battle represented by something more fearsome. A lion, a tiger, a rattlesnake. A hamster is only slightly more intimidating than Delta State’s Fighting Okra.

Then again, who am I to make fun of a school’s mascot? I live in a state where the largest university’s mascot is a moderately-toxic nut.

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