MacAdam: What’s in a nickname? For Union College, ‘the Future’

Union College lacrosse player with Dutchmen name on jersey

Union College is soliciting suggestions to replace its 'Dutchmen' and 'Dutchwomen' team nicknames.

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UNION COLLEGE – Here’s my submission for the Union College new-nickname contest: The Eradicators.

I’m not going to win.

One phrase from Union’s exhaustive explainer posted to the school website on Wednesday announcing a nickname change for its sports teams reminded me of a funny throwaway line at the start of one of my favorite “Kids in the Hall” sketches.

Union is shedding “Dutchmen” and “Dutchwomen,” and the school has gone to great lengths to cover every angle of why they’re looking for a new nickname and why that matters, on the web page titled “Help Union Uncover a Nickname for the Future.”

They’re “in the midst of a comprehensive branding update designed to strengthen how we communicate Union’s distinctiveness and the power of a Union education.”

“Comprehensive branding update” triggered memory of the opening of the Kids in the Hall’s classic “Eradicator” sketch, which begins in a corporate board meeting.

Mark McKinney uses a pointer to indicate to a bunch of assembled suits a single graph line on a chart showing that “Sales” are in freefall and says, “Now I know it’s common knowledge that we lost some money in the last quarter, but I feel it’s premature to blame our logo. Now …”

Then the meeting is interrupted by Bruce McCulloch as “The Eradicator,” in pink polo shirt, white tennis shorts, powder blue terry cloth wristbands, squash racquet … and a dark ski mask, as befits his self-styled persona as the scourge of the company’s “D” squash ladder. He busts into the meeting to berate his opponent, who forgot to show up for their match …

Um, back to the throwaway line. Union seems to be blaming its nickname for something, or at least disowning it for some broader purpose that is expressed by phrases like “looking to take ownership of a nickname that represents both Union’s proud history and bright future.”

Yeah, I’m being silly here with all the Eradicator stuff, but, sorry, Union, this whole enterprise seems kind of silly, a tempest in a Dutch oven of Union’s own making, and unnecessary.

The school itself admitted that nobody asked for this, and also that supposedly it isn’t an effort to align with the current movement away from team nicknames that trivialize Native American identity or can be viewed in some way as representing colonial oppression.

The page devoted to the nickname survey literally asks “Isn’t this just another example of a liberal college caving into the wokeness of some members of its community?” in its FAQ section, which must stand for “Frequently Anticipated Questions,” since no one outside the committee running this show had a chance to ask any before the whole thing was rolled out.

That question was prescient, though, as you’d expect these days, now that the expression “woke” has had its original meaning bludgeoned out of it by those who have co-opted it to simply represent stuff they don’t like.

Based on social media responses to Union’s announcement, the opponents who latch onto the “woke” aspect are the angry ones.

Most of the others seem to just be mystified or, in the case of the traditionalists, annoyed.

Some welcome it. Some don’t care.

There’s noble intent behind Union adopting a land acknowledgement statement in recent years, which reminds people that the land on which the school was built once belonged to the Iroquois Confederacy. You can hear this statement over the public address before games on campus.

For the record, the Dutch and local Native Americans peacefully co-habitated this area for nearly a century, I’m told by my friend Bill Buell, who became Schenectady County historian a few years ago after retiring from the Gazette.

This may not matter to those who would prefer that Union not be nicknamed after a nationality, any nationality, that colonized this country, and I get that.

If Union is changing the nickname in that spirit, the school should’ve just come out and said so, like it did with the land acknowledgement statement.

FAQ or no FAQ, you’re never going to convince the anti-woke mob that the change isn’t motivated by an expression of a social and cultural conscience.

And maybe Union doesn’t care what the angry people want, but the school specifically tried to head this off at the pass, so it matters on some level, when the goal is to change something that ideally creates appeal to the largest number of people possible.

The urge to be image-conscious these days is a powerful one. Individuals actually refer to their “personal brand” with a straight face.

The answer under “Why is Union doing this now?” begins “At their best, nicknames — and the accompanying mascots — are pride points for a college community, connecting alumni across generations with current and future students.”

The college says that the nickname is just one part of a larger branding process, then asks, under “Nickname Evaluation Criteria,” whether your submission is:

“— distinctive and ownable by Union College?

“— marketable and easily articulated?

“— one that elicits a sense of pride among students, employees and alumni?

“— something that communicates a sense of the College’s aspirations?

“— indicates ties to Union’s history and/or place in New York?

“— one that aligns with the College’s values, including our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?

“— one that will stand the test of time?”

That’s asking for a lot of work from a nickname.

And I don’t think “Eradicators” checks many of those boxes, not to mention that it sounds, you know, blatantly oppressive.

The solution is right under Union College’s nose, of course: the Union Garnet.

It represents the school color adopted in the 1870s; there’s history (they used to call the teams that, before Dutchmen came into vogue in the mid-20th century); it sounds cool, and yet dignified (think Stanford Cardinal); and it’s “woke/anti-woke”-neutral.

And the garnet gemstone, mostly associated with the dark red woven into the Union team uniforms, can actually come in a variety of colors, is multi-faceted and exhibits depth and beauty.

Then again, it takes considerable heat and pressure to create a garnet gemstone, and I doubt that those forces are really at work here.

Contact Mike MacAdam by email at Follow him on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

Categories: College Sports, Sports, Union College

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