The University of Nebraska updated the image of its mascot to avoid any connection with white supremacy, switching out the character's OK hand gesture to a "No. 1" gesture.
For nearly 50 years, the University of Nebraska's Cornhuskers mascot — a cartoon caricature named Herbie Husker with a red cowboy hat, blue overalls and an ear of corn in his pocket — displayed the OK hand sign, according to the Flatwater Free Press, which first reported the news on Friday.
But the college decided to change the mascot so it displayed the "No. 1" gesture instead after it learned the OK hand sign has been associated with far-right extremists and white supremacist groups in recent years, according to the outlet.
Lonna Henrichs, the licensing and branding director for the college's athletic department, told the Flatwater Free Press the university "made that change as quick as we could."
“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."
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in 2017 the OK hand sign was first used as a hate symbol by members of the underground website 4chan, who claimed the gesture represented the letters "WP" for "white power" as part of a hoax meant to trigger and troll liberals. Far-right extremists eventually began using the sign as a hate symbol as well, and by 2019 some had started to use it unironically, according to the ADL.
Still, not everyone is aware of the meaning and use of the gesture does not mean the person is using it as a hate symbol, the organization notes.
"The overwhelming usage of the 'okay' hand gesture today is still its traditional purpose as a gesture signifying assent or approval. As a result, someone who uses the symbol cannot be assumed to be using the symbol in either a trolling or, especially, white supremacist context unless other contextual evidence exists to support the contention," reads the ADL's website.
In Herbie Husker's case, the association between the hand gesture and white supremacy was brought to the attention of the university when its apparel provider, among others, informed it of the meaning, following Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the university's athletics department told The Associated Press in a statement.
“The process of changing the logo began in 2020, and we updated our brand guidelines in July of 2021. The revised logo is now the only Herbie Husker mark available to licensees," the statement continued.