SFU faces criticism over new varsity team name

Getting reactions on the new name from student athletes and organizers

Renaming reveals contentious process behind SFU’s new moniker. PHOTO: Krystal Chan / The Peak

By: Simran Sarai, Sports Writer

On September 6, over two years after SFU announced they were dropping “The Clan” due to its racist connotation with the “Ku Klux Klan,” SFU Athletics has chosen a new name. Moving forward, athletes will be known as the “Red Leafs” — a name chosen through consultation processes with the Varsity Team Name Working Group and the wider SFU community. 

According to a press release issued by SFU, part of the process included analyzing over 65 potential names, narrowing it down to two selections by the group. It was made up of “student-athletes, coaches, Athletic and Recreation Department staff, and student representatives from SFU First Nations, Métis & Inuit Student Association [FNMISA].” The two names were then brought forward to student groups, including the Simon Fraser Student Society and SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA). SFU said they “also sought feedback on the names from nine Host Nations.” 

Now, SFU is facing criticism from the same students who fought so desperately to have a new name adopted in the first place. Marie Haddad, co-organizer of the campaign to push SFU to change the previous name, spoke out on social media about the school’s choice to not include herself or fellow student organizers, Othniel Spence and Mason Glover, in any decision making processes. Spence and Glover were instrumental in garnering online traction for a name change. 

“I am saddened to say that I was never included properly within the process and am completely disheartened that Othniel Spence and Mason Glover did not receive any credit for our work that made a new name a possibility.”

In an interview with The Peak, Haddad said she felt “hopeless and deeply sorry for the people this name affects,” including those who might correlate the leaf to Canada’s ongoing history of colonization. “It doesn’t take much [more] than a simple Google search to know that the red leaf, symbolizing Canada, has gruesome colonial backing. Replacing a horrible racially insensitive name with a less insensitive name is not harm reduction, it is negligence.”  

Haddad only found out about the new name when the general announcement was released on social media. “It felt like a slap in the face,” she said, “I felt a wave of stress, of institutional betrayal, and carried this sorrow with me through the upcoming weeks.”

The Peak also reached out to Othniel Spence and Mason Glover for an interview, but did not receive a response by the publication deadline. 

The Peak spoke with a representative from FNMISA, who wished to remain anonymous. “The new name is the lesser of two evils,” they said, Every Canadian athlete who competes internationally falls under the red maple leaf.”  However, they believe the name was really chosen due to SFU’s affiliation with Nike, who gifted athletes uniforms branded with a red maple leaf in 2019. “Sticking with the new logo saves money and prevents further conflict,” the representative said. 

While SFU stated they had consulted with student groups, including FNMISA and (SOCA), the representative said these groups were last contacted about the name change in “mid-summer of 2020,” and “neither student association gave their approval on the two choices presented.”

Although the representative has personally come to terms with the unfolding of the process, they believe “the process could have been performed a lot better from the start. The Host Nations, the FNMISA, SOCA, other BIPOC student groups, and just more student engagement should have been present from the start.”

The Peak reached out to Theresa Hanson, senior director, SFU athletics and recreation for a comment, but did not receive a response by the publication deadline.

Student athletes weigh in 

The Peak also reached out to athletes who will compete under the Red Leafs name for their thoughts. Kaelan House, a member of the men’s cross country and track and field team, was excited to finally have a name to compete under. Jordan Thorsen, a third year goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, acknowledged that the previous name had not been one that “a lot of the athletes could take ownership of.” He believes Red Leafs is a much more fitting name for the only Canadian NCAA school. 

On the other hand, Fourth-year point guard David Penney, had neutral feelings about the name. “I love that they changed it [ . . . ] but I feel like most of the athletes didn’t really get a say until we knew what the name was gonna be. We just heard about options, and I didn’t even know that the Red Leafs was gonna be an option,” he explained, “There was a disconnect between the two parties.”

Instead, Penney believes SFU should have taken the two-years to get opinions from athletic teams about the other 65 names proposed during the process. “Even a survey to just one team or all the players and coaches [would have been enough] It feels like it was very behind the scenes,” he said.

Somto Anyadike, senior running back for the SFU football team, echoed Penney’s feelings of disconnect. “I thought that when we were getting a new team name, we would have a school vote. I was kind [of] off put by that,” he shared. Anyadike and the football team suggested potential names like the “Mountaineers” to fellow teammates who comprised the working board. Anyadike understood the correlation between the new name and the school’s slogan “rep the leaf,” but after a whole two-year debacle, he “thought a little more effort would go into the name.”