CALGARY — The University of Calgary is tightening up on the names used by intramural teams after complaints about sexist labels appearing on T-shirts and jerseys such as “Cunning Stunts” and “Frigid Whore.”
A student committee been given the job of policing the hundreds of teams of students and alumni who square off against other amateur players in sports ranging from basketball to dodge ball.
Each team pays a fee to the school to cover administration and facility rentals, and they had, until recently, been allowed to pick their own names.
They include: for flag football teams, “Let Me See Your TDs” and “Beats By Ray” (a reference to the National Football League running back Ray Rice who was filmed knocking his fiancée unconscious in an elevator). Volleyball teams have been called “Just The Tip” and “Muffin Stuffers,” while in bubble soccer there was “Ball Touchers.”
Some observers see the team name choices as perpetuating a “rape culture,” while others believe they are harmless puns, if somewhat off-colour.
Now, the university says it will highlight the potentially offensive names and send them to the elected student advisory board, which can nix anything offside.
‘We don’t actually believe we’re [students’] parents and it is a bit of a slippery slope’
“There’s never been any process like that in place in the university,” said Don McSwiney, a spokesman for the kinesiology faculty.
“We don’t actually believe we’re [students’] parents and it is a bit of a slippery slope. These are adults that go to this institution and for the most part the feeling has always been that these people can govern themselves by the rule of society.”
When students first complained in October, he said, the administration was moved by the argument the sexist team names could discourage some from participating in intramural sports.
“Changing the name should not diminish your ability to enjoy competition. But it will make it easier for others to enjoy it in the spirit of inclusiveness,” he said.
In addition, students themselves will decide what’s acceptable.
“[There isn’t] a giant bureaucracy at work with time to go through all this,” Mr. McSwiney said.
“We’re going to do a quick scan of the names that go through, some of the innuendoes … we may not get it.”
‘Do you really want to be someone who comes across as promoting violence against women as a fun thing?’
Lexi Naroski, the arts representative on the student union, said she went to the university administration after several students approached her with their concerns.
“Some of the names had perpetrated rape culture, I guess you could say,” she said.
“In an academic environment where students are supposed to be progressing and learning about this — women’s’ studies are taught here — this is so inappropriate.”
Ms. Naroski added she’s received countless “bullying” and “belittling” comments via social media since the tale of the team names broke.
“I kind of welcome the debate because I feel that if an issue like this is creating as much controversy as this has been, obviously a lot more learning needs to be done,” she said.
“It’s a good thing that this is still being raised.”
Not all students have reacted to the directive well. A Facebook group imploring the university to allow all team names in intramural sports has garnered support from 300 people.
The group is casting the issue as one of freedom of thought and speech, and sees the university’s actions as censorship.
“Censorship of thought and speech is unacceptable in a free society such as ours. We believe you can say what you want. And it is your right to offend or be offended.”
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It added team names were being dismissed seemingly arbitrarily. Those that referred to drugs and alcohol were taken off the student union’s website, it said.
“It is clear that there is no real standard aside from the ever subjective emotional state of the reader.”
Melanie Bethune, a second-year undergraduate and humour editor of student newspaper the Gauntlet, which wrote about the name controversy last month, said she believes objectors to the new directive were in the minority.
“A lot of people suffer from serious domestic abuse. [A] respectful, decent human being shouldn’t trivialize those sorts of issues,” she said.
Noting that intramural leagues at other schools have encountered the same kinds of problems, Mr. McSwiney said he hoped just raising awareness would encourage the athletes to be more sensitive to the issue.
“[We’re asking them] is this something you’re aiming for? To make people feel bad? Do you really want to be someone who comes across as promoting violence against women as a fun thing?” he asked.