Editorial: “Alaska” Nanooks conveniently forget Fairbanks
Spencer Tordoff / Web Editor
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is, in its home city, often beleaguered but much beloved. Founded less a mere 16 years after Fairbanks itself, the university has been its constant companion, a source of arts, sciences, and fresh faces for the benefit of interior Alaska. No matter their precise feelings about the campus, I defy you to find any Fairbanksan who doesn’t recognize the acronym “UAF.”
So who the hell are the “Alaska Nanooks,” then, and what is their relationship to Fairbanks? This question has been bugging me since my return to campus last spring.
From my childhood on through most of my time earning an associate’s degree, UAF had a simple, recognizable brand. The old “walking bear” logo was comfortable, lived-in, and emblazoned on everything from letterhead to jerseys to Facilities Services vehicles—some of the older plow and dump trucks still bear (har, har) the insignia.
Change, of course, is inevitable, and when I saw the new school logo it took a bit of getting used to. The abstracted style and revised font clashed with my memory, but ultimately the basics were the same; a bear standing in front of the school’s initials.
But the attire, banners, and jerseys marked with the new athletics logo I found confusing at best. The Nanook was there, sure, but in place of the identifying initials stood a single “A,” in generic athletic serif. I’d have thought the initial stood for “Ambiguity,” were it not for the mascot present on some versions.
It wasn’t just the visual style that bothered me—in sports news, the name “Alaska Nanooks” appeared to my initial confusion. Again, “UAF” had been the de-facto moniker before, so the shift away from acknowledging Fairbanks as home struck an unpleasant chord, as though the team was seeking to distance itself from the rest of campus.
In fairness to our athletics department, sports teams of UAF have avoided the “U” and the “F” on paper. But this wasn’t true of team insignia and uniforms; as late as the mid-2000s, the school’s initials were proudly emblazoned upon the jerseys of its teams, and the teams were called the “UAF Nanooks” in broadcast and print.
Before you think this is all the rambling of a (relatively) old man, consider the following: both the UAF style guide and brand book specify that one should avoid referring to the teams as the “UAF Nanooks.” Although having a “strong brand” is considered important (to the point of obsession) in the modern era, separating Fairbanks from its sports teams seems petulant at best. At worst? A more cynical person might argue that, in the face of cutbacks and reductions across the UA system, severing UAF from the Nanooks paves the way for consolidating athletic programs—perhaps, even, in Anchorage—as a system-wide identity rather than one unique to this campus.
I don’t believe that such a location is likely, nor do I believe that’s the intent of the rename. However, I do believe that avoiding mention of UAF serves neither our school nor our athletics department, and weakens the reputation of an institution that, for better or for worse, has been with Fairbanks for nearly a century.