The University of Utah is one of only a few remaining NCAA teams who still compete with a nickname drawn from Native American influences. A majority of the athletic teams at Utah are nicknamed the Utes. The only two exceptions are men's basketball and women's gymnastics. The men's basketball team is nicknamed the Runnin' Utes and the women's gymnastics team is known as the Red Rocks.
Origins For Utes Nickname
Utah's nickname is drawn from the native Ute tribes who lived in the state for many centuries before the arrival of Mormon settlers in 1847. The Utes were one of the first Native American tribes to use the horse for hunting and transportation. Modern Ute tribal leaders have an agreement with the University of Utah, giving it permission to use Utes as a nickname for its athletic teams.
Utah is one of a handful of NCAA schools permitted to use a nickname and logo invoking Native American imagery. The Utes were granted special exemption from an NCAA rule passed in 2005 that forbid the usage of nicknames based on Native American terms because of approval from Ute tribal leadership. Tribal leaders sent a letter to the NCAA affirming they consented to the usage of Utes as Utah's nickname and took pride in the exposure it brought to the tribe.
Other Nicknames Besides Utes
Early in its athletic history, Utah used the term "Redskins" interchangeably with Utes. This practice changed in 1972 when university leaders discontinued the use of Redskins and adopted Utes as the sole nickname for Utah's athletic teams.
Native American imagery can also be found in other areas. Each team uses a drum and feather "U" logo. In the 1980s, a man dressed in Indian attire -- known as the Crimson Warrior -- rode on horseback onto the football field before kickoff and planted a spear into a bale of hay. He was phased out and replaced for good in 1996 by Swoop as the official mascot. Swoop is a depiction of a red-tailed hawk, a bird species native to Utah.
No Native American imagery is used besides the drum and feather logo. For a short time in the 1970s, Utah sanctioned use of Hoyo -- a cartoon Indian boy. Hoyo was eventually dropped from usage because of the racist stereotypes it perpetuated. Swoop was adopted as a mascot with permission of Ute tribal leadership in 1996.John Coon is a graduate of the University of Utah and has covered the Utes in multiple sports as a sports reporter based in Salt Lake City.