There is no good reason not to change the name of our sports teams

Our “Scottish heritage” is borrowed and shouldn’t be used to justify problematic names

Is McFogg even a real Scottish terrier? Image courtesy of @SFU Twitter account

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

The recent Black Lives Matter protests around the world have turned a new page in the chapter of global anti-racist conversations. Locally, SFU’s athletics teams’ name has once again been the subject of critical scrutiny. Admittedly, playing under a name like “The Clan” isn’t great optics for a supposedly liberal university like SFU. It’s incredibly insensitive to the teams and players we compete against who associate such a name with the KKK — particularly those players in the US. Frankly, the name is cringy under the best of circumstances, and for too long awkward gestures to our supposed Scottish heritage have been used as an explanation for why the name hasn’t yet changed in our 55-year history.

Honestly, at this point in time, history is not enough to justify keeping a name that not only causes offense, but endangers our players as well. Those who cry the loudest against the removal of racist colonial icons or names appeal to history as a basis for resisting progressive change. Yet some histories — especially white colonial history — shouldn’t be put on a pedestal. Aside from the fact that using history as a justification to continue celebrating people and events that oppress others is a pretty shitty thing to do, the history that these appeals are based on is often romanticized at best or flat out incorrect at worst. In the case of SFU’s Scottish history, it’s a little bit of both.

Like our campus’s legendary prison architecture or the opening of the SUB, SFU’s Scottish “heritage” is more fabrication than fact. As SFU history alumni Georgia Twiss articulates, SFU’s connection to Scottish history was from its inception more about piggy-backing on the clout of established Scottish nobility than anything else. In Twiss’s words, “Simon Fraser symbolized a prestigious sense of historical continuity and heritage that was lacking in the locally-branded ‘Instant University’.” And while you may be thinking, “Of course, we’re named after one of the first European explorers in Western Canada,” you should know that’s not even the Simon Fraser she’s talking about.

SFU gets its name, its crest, its motto, and the name of its athletics teams from the much more contemporary “Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat” in a bid to adopt a sense of precedence it didn’t, at the time, possess. This is akin to sitting next to the cool kids day after day, until everyone else just assumes you’re cool too. There is nothing in the “manufactured history” of our Canadian university that is so inherently Scottish that it must remain beholden to names that are detrimental to our students and our relationships with other institutions. 

Our university was founded in the heart of the Civil Rights movement. It should have been apparent to anyone not dedicated to crafting prestige out of a faux connection with Scottish nobility that a team name like “The Clan” — or the Clansmen as it was originally called — was a bit problematic. But regardless of whatever cultural or ideological blinders the university’s founders had at the time, the fact remains that this name has been allowed to continue for 55 years. And while objection has naturally been raised in that time, the university has yet to meaningfully address what it calls a “difficult issue.”

Over the last half century our school has built a diverse community of students and faculty, with a rich, expanding tradition of campus activism. We long ago lost the need to associate ourselves with the upper echelons of an antiquated, foriegn class system — if we ever truly had such a need. Surely there’s some other name we could pull from our annals to rebrand our sports teams that’s better than “The Clan.”

After all, what’s in a name? A football team by any other name would still lose just as many games.