Jordan Pascale, Flatwater Free Press, January 28, 2022
For nearly 50 years, fans have loved the burly Husker mascot who wears blue overalls, sports a big red cowboy hat and keeps an ear of corn in his pocket. The depiction of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed farmer with a barrel chest and chiseled chin is, for many Nebraskans, a representation of the state itself.
For nearly all that time, Herbie Husker has held a football in one hand and thrown up an “a-OK” sign with the other. But if you’ve paid close attention, you may have noticed a change.
Now, Herbie’s left hand shows “we’re number one.”
The reason for that slight switch: White supremacists.
Internet trolls and white supremacy groups have tried to turn the OK sign into a symbol of white power, claiming the three fingers up form a W and the circle and wrist form a P.
That, in turn, gave Herbie’s OK sign a potential meaning his creators never intended.
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.
“That hand gesture could, in some circles, represent something that does not represent what Nebraska athletics is about,” Henrichs said. “We just didn’t even want to be associated with portraying anything that somebody might think, you know, that it means white power.
“We made that change as quick as we could.”
She asked an in-house designer to Photoshop Herbie’s left hand to have one finger pointed in the air. While the change hasn’t yet appeared in Nebraska’s brand book, Herbie with his index finger aloft is the only logo that will be approved for merchandise going forward, Henrichs said.
Lawrence Chatters, the athletic department’s first senior staff-level head of diversity, equity and inclusion, was hired after the decision was made. He’s proud of the decision. He said he wants the Huskers to be “competitively inclusive.”
“When there is hatred and hurt attached to a symbol, or a word, or a gesture, we have to pay attention to it,” said Chatters, an executive associate athletic director. “We don’t have the choice to just say, ‘well, that’s not what you think it is.’
“Truthfully, those (hate) groups do exist. Truthfully, those are movements that have caused issues in our country. We’re not talking about a false reality here.”
Fans interviewed for this story understand the switch, though one laments it as a tad too politically correct.
Andrew Monson recently noticed the change to Herbie’s left hand. He spent his early years in Nebraska and is a fan of logo design with an eye for detail. (His dad, a newspaper editor, would pay him a quarter for every mistake he found in the paper when he was a kid).
Monson suspected the white supremacist ties spurred the new logo. He thinks the quick switch was smart.
“From a marketing point of view, they absolutely nailed it in terms of brand preservation and getting out ahead of things,” Monson said. “Their worst-case scenario would be a… white supremacist who notices it and starts co-opting it… that would be an absolute disaster for the university.”