The Corner

Culture

College Sports Nomenclature Update

After much defiance, foot-dragging, and gritting of teeth, the citizens of North Dakota have finally, reluctantly chosen the name Fighting Hawks for the University of North Dakota’s athletic teams. The new nickname replaces Fighting Sioux, which was dropped in 2012 under strong pressure from the NCAA.

The hawk holds a deep and mysterious attraction for academic name changers; over the years Northeastern State (Oklahoma), Lehigh, Dickinson State, Miami of Ohio, Southeast Missouri State, Massachusetts-Lowell, Seattle, Chowan University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Louisiana-Monroe, and Stonehill have also switched their nicknames to hawks of assorted types. For variety’s sake, North Dakota could have chosen Flickertails (North Dakota is sometimes called the Flickertail State), if they wouldn’t mind having their teams named after a squirrel. They could even have an annual Rodent Cup showdown with the Gophers of neighboring Minnesota. Or how about the Peace Gardens? North Dakota is officially the Peace Garden State, and in today’s college atmosphere, you can’t find a much safer space than a garden of peace.

Meanwhile, tonight Columbia and Brown Universities will play football in windy, chilly upper Manhattan. Coming into the game, Columbia has an encouraging 2–7 record while Brown’s is a disappointing 4–5, and that’s all you need to know about those two programs. Their team nicknames are standard and unassailable (Lions and Bears, respectively; Brown’s team used to be called the Bruins before they unaccountably switched a few decades ago), but if current trends in higher education hold up, this could be the last Columbia–Brown game ever — not because the two teams will stop playing each other, but because I fear the universities’ very names will soon come under attack.

We’ve seen how Princeton is considering renaming its Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs because protesters accuse Wilson of being a racist. They’re right about that: Wilson was a racist and a half, even by early-20th-century standards, and here at National Review we have other reasons for disliking him. But he was president of the United States, and president of Princeton, and an alumnus, and after all he did get the nation through World War I, so it seems entirely appropriate for Princeton’s international-affairs school to be named after him. Yet it now looks inevitable that Princeton will remove Wilson’s name.

Can tonight’s gridiron rivals withstand a similar assault? Columbia’s name comes from Christopher Columbus, that notorious racist imperialist murderer whose holiday is being abolished right and left (well, mostly left), while the Brown family of Rhode Island made part of the cash that got the college named for them in the slave trade. The way things are going, can these names survive much longer? Don’t be surprised if next year, when these same two teams meet again in Providence, the matchup is Obama University vs. Emma Watson Institute.

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