In recent months, there has been a discussion about renaming the University of Winnipeg Wesmen sports teams.
The name “Wesmen” was coined in 1938 when the Wesley and Manitoba colleges amalgamated to form the United College, later renamed the University of Winnipeg in 1967.
The “Save the Wesmen” page on Facebook is currently sitting at 822 “likes” with a large number of people voicing their opposition to the name change, claiming it would be stomping on the U of W’s athletic history.
There seems to be more students opposed to the name change than there are students who are for it.
We’ve seen many different sports teams come under fire for their names. The Cleveland Indians, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Washington Red Skins, Florida State Seminoles, Edmonton Eskimos and the Kansas City Chiefs just to name a few.
Yet their names haven’t changed.
It’s because they have history; their name becomes an identity not only for the fans, coaches and alumni, but the athletes who create this history.
It has become quite clear where the athletes’ minds are on this issue. It seems most are against the name change.
“It is a slap in the face of history to change the name Wesmen,” Tom Douglas-Powell, a member of the men’s volleyball team, said, adding that it is “a history shared by male and female athletes alike.”
He’s not alone.
Members of the newly established baseball team are with Douglas-Powell.
“It doesn’t make sense to change the name. University pride and tradition would be lost with the name change,” says Branden Kuzyk.
His teammate Joshua Stolar added, “If the university is worried about gender neutrality and equal opportunities, there are much better and productive ways to go about it. The Wesmen are intended to pay tribute to Wesley College, not divide genders.”
That’s what the Wesmen name is about - history and pride in that history.
As far as the term “gender exclusive” being tossed around - yes, the name “Wesmen” does put the emphasis on “men.”
However, many of the posts on the Facebook page have come from women who express the fact that they have never felt marginalized or excluded by the name.
Many women have also commented on the Facebook group’s wall, voicing their displeasure about the name change.
“It has never occurred to me that the ‘Wesmen’ name is sexist. Changing it is really unnecessary and it would destroy the heritage and tradition of the name,” wrote Karen Bate.
Reffinnej Jecoy reinforces this assertion in her post, saying, “As a female I say, keep the Wesmen. It is a tradition and a name. An identity!”
There is pride in the Wesmen name.
It has been around since 1938 and it has a history that people have worked hard for.
Why change that?
Why try to start a new history when there is such a rich history that the Wesmen name has already accumulated?
If the Wesmen name is changed, I fear it may be because a few people who have power over others will change the name despite the overwhelming support to keep the name.
Yes, it is worth the conversation, but is it worth trampling on a history that both men and women athletes have worked so hard for?
More than 800 Facebook users, many of them athletes, sure don’t seem to think so.
Stephen Burns is a third-year rhetoric and communications student in the Joint Communications Program at Red River College and the University of Winnipeg.
Published in Volume 67, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 31, 2012)