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It started with Staters, Professors and Wampus Cats — How San Diego State became the Aztecs

College football kicks off in 100 days, and we are counting down to the beginning of the season with a review of how schools selected their mascots.  We are going from A to Z, so we are starting with how San Diego State became the Aztecs, a name that was originated with no dissent, but that has recently been the catalyst for protests.

The San Diego State athletic program began when San Diego State Normal School and junior college merged in 1921.  The team had a 408 record its first season, and the media referred to the teams as, “Staters” or “Professors.”  Neither name stuck, so during the 1923-24 school year The Paper Lantern, the school newspaper, encourage the use of the name, “Wampus Cats.”    Surprisingly, the name was not popular, and the athletic director’s urging, the newspaper invited suggestions. Names such as Panthers, Balboans and Thoroughbreds were considered, but in 1925 student leaders selected “Aztecs” as the official nickname.  They felt the name was more representative of a southwest image, and the selection met with o dissent.  In February 1925, San Diego State athletic teams officially became the Aztecs.


Late last year, a group of students proposed the school move away from any reference to the Aztec people and culture. The proposal was submitted by the Queer People of Color Collective in October.  The group is asking for the school to drop the Aztec name, the Aztec Warrior mascot and any other reference to the Aztec branding.  According to the group’s proposal, the use of the Aztec name and mascot helps “perpetuate harmful stereotypes of Native Americans, including the notion that Native Americans are innately violent, dangerous, and ‘savage,’ which is demonstrated by the Aztec Warrior’s aggressive body language, the Aztec Warrior’s use of a spear at special events, the use of a spear on the SDSU Athletics Logo which is printed on uniforms and SDSU memorabilia, and the slogan ‘fear the spear.’”   In 2013, the school had adopted new logos that featured custom lettering (above right), that removed the image of Aztec warriors, another discontinued logo is shown below.

An older logo that was discontinued in 2013

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