McGill athletics’ name challenge is long overdue

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Despite McGill’s original intentions, its Redmen team name marginalizes students on campus and perpetuates racist norms. It’s long past acceptable.

In 1929, the name Red Men, later Redmen, was first established to describe both McGill athletes’ red uniforms and the red hair of Celtic people, from whom school namesake James McGill descended. However, by the 1950s, that name had transformed to include nicknames like the “Indians” and a racist term for Indigenous women. By the 1980s, the team’s logo was a caricature of an Indigenous man in a feather headdress. 

On Nov. 12, a McGill student union referendum saw 79 per cent of participating students vote to change the team’s name due to its derogatory connotations. Tomas Jirousek, the Indigenous student athlete who spearheaded efforts to change the name, said, “Indigenous students are hurting, and that should be the only priority for the university.”

The potential for changing the name has since been met with vigorous opposition from alumni on grounds of tradition and nostalgia.

Arguments for sentimentality are invalid—traditions are constantly subject to change. Just as the meaning of “Redmen” has changed since the 1920s, so have countless other aspects of McGill culture.

Traditions aren’t sacred, and they don’t outweigh the countless Indigenous students living, studying, and working at McGill.

Whatever the name’s meaning in 1929, today, Redmen is a racist term referring to Indigeneity. Throughout McGill’s history, campus media and yearbooks have used phrases like “Indians on warpath” and “Redman scalped” when referring to sports games. If McGill maintains its team’s name, it reinforces a prejudiced history.

Those who claim the original team name connects McGill alumni with school history value their collegiate memories over a sensitive portrayal of history.

An overwhelming student majority voted to change the team name because of its connotations. Catering to McGill’s past rather than its present sidelines students’ representation on their own campus. Institutions in the spotlight should recognize the needs of the people they represent.

University sports team names are ubiquitous, plastered on jerseys and banners across campuses. If those team names impact any part of the student body’s comfort on campus, change is the university’s responsibility.

Replacing “Redmen” is critical to ensuring Indigenous students feel safe receiving a McGill education.

And regardless of alumni outcries, removing the current­ name will make future alumni and students all the more proud to be associated with McGill.

—Journal Editorial Board

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