After the year-long process to rename McGill University’s men’s varsity teams, Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau announced on November 17 that they will officially be called the McGill Redbirds.
In April 2019, Deputy Provost Labeau formed a committee to recommend a new name for the male varsity teams, pending Principal Suzanne Fortier’s approval. As described by Deputy Provost Labeau in an email to the entire McGill community on November 17, the goal of the committee was to find a name which the “entire community could wear, and cheer for, with pride.”
Members of the McGill community advocated to change the previous “Redmen” team name for several years. The 2018 #ChangeTheName campaign, led by former McGill student Tomas Jirousek – who is himself Indigneous, and a former varsity athlete – sparked the change. This campaign led members of the McGill community to protest the team name, citing its racist stereotyping and anti-Indigneous sentiment.
Regarding the announcement of the new team name, Jirousek noted: “This is something to celebrate, but it isn’t the end of the conversation. There has been damage done by the Redmen name’s legacy, that has left decades of Indigneous students feeling ostracized, isolated at McGill. That doesn’t go away with the snap of your fingers or the simple decision to change the Redmen name.”
McGill Varsity Council president Evelyn Silverson-Tokatlidis added that “The Varsity Council is happy that the men’s teams finally have a name to compete under. We are glad that McGill has come to a decision”
During the Fall 2018 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) referendum, nearly 78.8% of students who voted were in favour of changing the name. On April 12, Principal Fortier formally announced that McGill would be changing the name of the male athletics teams. The athletics teams remained unnamed during the year following this announcement, referred to as only ‘McGill Varsity Teams.’
Labeau shared his enthusiasm for the new name, stating, “Several names emerged as top choices over the course of the Committee’s mandate. In the end the Redbirds rose to the forefront for its strong links to both the past and present of McGill A&R.”
In the end the Redbirds rose to the forefront for its strong links to both the past and present of McGill A&R
An exhaustive summary of proceedings of the Men’s Varsity Teams Naming Committee is posted on McGill’s Student Life and Learning website, including a description of the historical significance of the Redbird name, as well as the rationale for not using the women’s teams’ name, the Martlets. As for this decision not to adopt the Martlet name, the committee noted that the “desire to have the same name borne by the men’s and women’s teams was often expressed during the consultations.” However, the committee also reported that the possibility of adopting the Martlet name “generated the highest number of negative feedback.”
Silverson-Tokatlidis noted that student-athletes disagreed throughout the consultation process, saying “the men did not want the Martlet name, co-ed sports wanted a unified name, and women’s sports wanted keep the martlet name, and because of our varied opinions we couldn’t reach a conclusion as athletes”
When asked about the decision to abandon the Martlet name for the men’s teams, Jirousek said, “I don’t think there is any reason why the men can’t champion the same name that the women are. The women have done a rather spectacular job of championing the university as Martlets; they have a legacy to be proud of. There’s no reason why the men couldn’t have also supported that legacy.”
There’s no reason why we couldn’t have chosen a name which honoured the Mohawk people, the Kahnawake, or one which addressed in some ways the legacy of the Redmen name
Jirousek also expressed that “there should have been a name that honoured Indigenous people, if we didn’t use Martlet. You look at other universities, such as UBC, they chose the UBC Thunderbirds, and that was a name which honours, and was supported by the Musqueam and Squamish Indigenous people of Vancouver.” In light of this, Jirousek believes that “there’s no reason why we couldn’t have chosen a name which honoured the Mohawk people, the Kahnawake, or one which addressed in some ways the legacy of the Redmen name.”