SAN DIEGO — With a landslide that would be the envy of any politician, Aztec Warrior has been endorsed by students and alumni as the official mascot of San Diego State, officials announced Thursday.
President Stephen L. Weber, who had promised to abide by the vote, said Aztec Warrior will make his debut this spring, ending two mascot-less years for the university since the banishment of Monty Montezuma. "There's a clear sense among students and alumni that we like and are proud of our affiliation with the Aztecs," Weber said.
He had called for the vote in hopes of bringing closure to the divisive issue. Although popular with students and alumni, Aztec Warrior was scorned by some Latino and Native American groups as racist.
"I guess it's official now: People of color are considered as subhuman mascots," said former San Diego State student Gloria Gonzalez.
Students endorsed Aztec Warrior by 78% to 22% in two days of voting last week. Nearly 30% of the university's 33,676 students voted, the highest turnout for a student election in campus history. Members of the Alumni Assn. and Aztec Athletic Foundation backed Aztec Warrior by 88% to 12%. Of 12,537 alums eligible to vote, 38% cast ballots.
After Weber removed the longtime mascot, Monty Montezuma, as culturally offensive and historically incorrect, the Aztec Warrior costume was designed by a group of alumni.
Played by Carlos Gutierrez, a former San Diego State student, Aztec Warrior roamed the stands at Qualcomm Stadium for two seasons encouraging fans to root for the university's football team, the Aztecs. Since he was not an official mascot, he was not allowed on the field. With the vote and Weber's decision, that ban is now lifted.
Before calling for the vote, Weber had the costume redesigned by a scholar on Aztec culture. Unlike Monty Montezuma, who represented an Aztec emperor, the new mascot is meant to represent a rank-and-file warrior.
Although the two costumes are similar, Monty had a larger headdress and preferred a loincloth, whereas Aztec Warrior is more modest in his attire.
Backers of the new figure were exultant over the vote.
"It's been embarrassing to be the only Division 1 team without a mascot," said Bruce Johnson, president of the Aztec Warrior Foundation. "Not anymore: Aztec Warrior is back. It's cool."
Douglas Oden, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the results. His group had opposed using Aztec Warrior as a mascot. "I think people who do not have a history of discrimination find it difficult to understand how other people can be sensitive about the inappropriate use of a figure from their culture," he said. "Just because the majority rules, that doesn't make it right."
Gutierrez, who was Monty Montezuma from 1990 to 1998, has signed with the university to continue portraying Aztec Warrior. As Monty, he was known for running on the field with a flaming spear. Aztec Warrior will also carry a spear.
"This vote tells me we were right the whole time," he said. "We've proved the fighting spirit of the San Diego Aztecs, and we prevailed."