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SFU prof says ‘Clan’ team name should change, puts student athletes at risk

Petition against the name of SFU’s sports teams
WATCH: Should sports teams at Simon Fraser University no longer be called "The Clan"? A petition has been launched to push the case. Paul Johnson has more.

A Simon Fraser University (SFU) professor has launched a petition urging officials to change the school’s team name from The Clan, suggesting it could offend U.S.-based opponents and potentially put student athletes at risk.

The university’s teams are known as The Clan, formerly the Clansmen, in honour of the Scottish heritage of the man the school is named after.

SFU competes in the NCAA’s Division II and its varsity teams regularly travel south of the border to compete. This season, for instance, The Clan football team will be playing games in Washington state, Oregon and California.

Holly Andersen, a professor with SFU’s department of philosophy, said the team name could offend some Americans who may associate The Clan with the Ku Klux Klan.

In a statement to Global News, Andersen said the team name “makes our competitors incredibly uncomfortable and puts them in a very awkward position.”

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Andersen goes on to suggest that student athletes could be put in harm’s way.

“I think it is somewhat dangerous for our student athletes given the new climate in the U.S. A shockingly-large number of college campuses have passed new rules that allow for students to carry handguns, sometimes even concealed handguns,” she wrote.

“Many of these campuses are in states with Stand Your Ground laws or some variety of law like that, where if someone claims they were afraid for their life (for instance, if they pick a fistfight with you and you swing back), they can legally shoot you and not be prosecuted.

“Sending our students into that tinderbox with an inflammatory name does them a disservice. We can pick a great new name before anything goes off the rails, rather than waiting till there is some incident or tragedy. Our current and future students deserve that.”

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Several hundred people have already signed the online petition.

Andersen has suggested alternate names such as The Tartans, which would still honour Simon Fraser’s Scottish heritage.

Jackie Rucker, a Seattle resident who was on hand to watch SFU’s football team lose 83-7 to Azusa Pacific at Burnaby’s Terry Fox Field on Saturday, said she did not find the name offensive.

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“I don’t they think they should [change their name], especially since it’s been there for however long,” she said. “If there were incidents behind that name, I would say yes, but I don’t think so. I think they should keep it.”

Several professional sports teams, such as the NFL’s Washington Redskins and Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, have been pressured to change their names.

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In the past, former Liberal leader Bob Rae has suggested the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos should change its name.

Andersen argues that the term “Clan” is not in itself racist, but “the issue is the context.”

“In Canada that term is fine, but in the U.S. it is as bad as a pretty bad swear word,” she wrote. “And, SFU decided to join the U.S.-only NCAA collegiate sports association. We invited ourselves into their house, where it is somewhat rude to insist that they respect our meaning of the word, rather than recognizing their own meaning.”

— With files from Paul Johnson