In April, at an event called Canesfest, University of Miami athletic director Paul Dee unveiled snazzy redesigned uniforms for the school's football, basketball, and baseball teams. Less attention was paid to a new logo, which soon appeared all over the shady Coral Gables campus printed on hats and T-shirts that were sold both online and in stores.
University officials insist the design represents the beloved ibis, which has been the official UM mascot since 1926. New Times, unfortunately, has been unable to confirm this. We showed the orange, white, and gray illustration to more than 30 people, and virtually everyone insisted it was something else entirely. A hurricane? Or maybe a blue whale breaking the surface? Then there was "What's the Japanese bullet train doing on the UM jerseys?"
The student union at Florida International University's Tamiami Campus was our main testing ground. We hoped fresh eyes, unsaturated by the UM propaganda blitz, would recognize the beloved waterfowl. Shown a rendering of the logo, here's how these college-educated youngsters responded.
"It looks like a spaceship, some kind of new CIA airplane," says Julie Ramos, age 23.
"It looks like a spaceship," echoes Anna deArmas, age 20. "As soon as I saw it [I thought] it looks like a spaceship. That's the only thing I see."
"It looks like midperiod Picasso," adds Alfredo Soto, former editor of FIU's newspaper, the Beacon. "Or perhaps it's one of three things, or maybe all three: a U.S. mail logo, a great big dirty pigeon wing, or a bit of skyline."
"It looks like a spaceship or a blimp, or it could be a wing," offers Deon Butler, age 21. "I thought it kind of looked like a bird at first, but then I said no way. I'm a graphics major. I think it would look better if they put an eye on it."
Only biology professor David Lee, age 57, sees a bird right off, though he somehow notices clouds as well. The image is "quite attractive," he notes, but his praise is conditional: "I hope it's not a logo for a sports team. If so, I don't think it will go. A logo has to be more in your face."
At least one person brings personal issues to the poll. "Seeing as it's Good Friday and I'm fasting, it looks like a chocolate kiss," says Maritza Kirod, age 38.
The logo was designed for the school by Nike, an apparel company known for way-out ads and questionable treatment of contract workers. The image is a "third logo," explains Patrick Nero, an associate athletic director who oversaw the creation. "Over time we've had about seven or eight tertiary logos," Nero elaborates. "We have a hurricane symbol we've used a lot at different times. Sometimes we've used a hurricane symbol with the U in it. There was no system to it. There was no reason to use one."
One of the more popular UM logos is Sebastian the Ibis, who is dressed in an orange varsity letter sweater and spats. Sebastian isn't going anywhere, Nero says. Fact is, though, the big bird on campus hasn't been pulling his weight lately -- at least when it comes to cash.
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"The Sebastian mark hadn't been selling very well from a retail standpoint," Nero says. "We wanted something more in line with what they're doing in the NBA, more of an action figure. Nike gave us a bunch of ideas, four or five different versions over a six- to eight-month period. This one we liked, because it incorporated both the ibis and the hurricane look."
So it's an ibis and a hurricane?
"You have to concentrate on the beak," Nero says. "It took me awhile to find it. Oh, the first ten times I looked at it I couldn't see it. But this is what the kids want. This mark is definitely geared 100 percent toward youth retail." After hearing this well-considered explanation, New Times polled four people within the intended demographic. One sees a bird. Valery Figueroa, age 17, speaks for the majority: "It's a spaceship." Asked what else she sees in the image, she says, "Nothing." She was unwilling to assist the quest for truth by staring at the image for four or five hours until an ibis appeared.