Earlier this year, Marist College’s media department posted an April Fools’ news release jokingly saying it was going to switch out its mascot Shooter the Fox for Gary the Groundhog. Seven months later, however, at least a part of the joke has become reality, but the reason is far from funny. Citing the increasing frequency of mass shootings and gun violence across the country, the upstate New York school’s longtime mascot Shooter the Fox quietly became Frankie the Fox this weekend.
“Unfortunately, in our culture today, there is a negative stigma to that term ‘shooter.’ And I just didn’t think it was appropriate for us at this time to perpetuate that term,” Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray told the Poughkeepsie Journal on Tuesday, days after the mascot debuted his new No. 1 jersey labeled “Frankie” on the back and not “Shooter” as it has read since 1979.
The school updated its website Tuesday to reflect the mascot’s new name, while erasing the fox’s previous name entirely.
While the change happened in an instant online, rumblings about whether to rename the mascot began in early October when Murray woke up to news that a lone gunman had killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more by aiming guns out of two Las Vegas hotel windows and raining bullets down on a country music festival goers below.
Murray told the Journal he kept hearing the term “shooter” being used to describe the killer, eventually identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock. While “Shooter the Fox” was a hat tip to the mascot’s basketball prowess, Murray said the “negative stigma” now attached to the word eventually led to the change.
“I just didn’t think it was [not] appropriate for us at this time to perpetuate that term,” Murray said, noting prior to the Vegas massacre, a few fans had complained about the name.
“But it really didn’t rise to the level now, where every other week you’re hearing about another unfortunate tragedy,” Murray said. “I think it kind of hit me personally and I said ‘It’s time.’ ”
To illustrate Murray’s point, one need only look at recent news. Since the Vegas tragedy, at least two more mass shootings have been carried out: Devin Kelley shot and killed 26 at a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., this month, while a yet-to-be identified shooter killed at least four when he opened fire at an elementary school and several other locations in Northern California.
While coincidental word association proved enough to Murray and other Marist athletic staff to abandon the name “Shooter,” some fans of the Red Foxes are still getting used to it.
“Shooter the Fox was named Shooter the Fox years prior to shootings,” Marist senior Charlie Jerla told the Journal. “It’s a mascot, and he has nothing to do with shootings. So I really don’t see why they would change it. But everybody is so sensitive these days.”
Murray rejects that being sensitive to the feelings of others is somehow a negative thing, however, especially with something like a sports mascot.
“Our mascot is supposed to be fun, exciting and so on,” Murray told the paper. “And if our mascot creates any issues with any person, it’s not worth having that nickname.”