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Examining tangled legacies at sports facilities in a #BLM world

NCAAA debate over Marge Schott’s legacy in terms of the University of Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium is leading to a larger issue: how to address the tangled legacies behind venue names at colleges and universities across the country.

The UC Bearcats play at Marge Schott Stadium; a $2 million donation from her enabled construction of the facility some 14 years ago. A Cincinnati native and UC alumnus, Schott was known as a philanthropist whose gifts were donated to community institutions like the zoo and area hospitals.

But, as owner of the Cincinnati Reds, she was also known as being virulently racist. Her disparaging remarks about women, Asian-Americans, gays, blacks and Jews were widely quoted in the 1990s, leading to her being suspended for a year by Major League Baseball for a season from the Reds’ day-to-day operations, as well as being levied a $250,000 fine; positive comments about Adolph Hitler earned her a second suspension in 1998. But in the end, the National League stopped short of the ultimate penalty: forcing her to sell the team. She did so anyway soon after the second suspension ended . Her gift that enabled Marge Schott Stadium came afterwards.

The naming of Marge Schott Stadium has come under debate recently, as former players and UC alumni have questioned whether her tangled legacy should be honored by the university. There was no formal agreement between the Schott Foundation and the school to indefinitely call the ballpark Marge Schott Stadium, and some are calling for a name change. Interestingly, the movement is being led by former players Jordan Ramey and Nathan Moore. From WAMU:

“I think it would set a great example for schools around the world that still commemorate people who clearly thought the wrong way and were racist,” he said.

The University of Cincinnati released a statement from Athletic Director John Cunningham.

“We appreciate the willingness of our current and former student-athletes to have tough conversations and express their feelings about the name of our baseball stadium. The Department of Athletics is providing the University Administration any information or context they may need to better understand this issue from the perspectives of our student-athletes. We are One Team and I want to thank our student-athletes for their candor and let each and every one of them know I’m always available to them via phone or text if they want or need to talk.”

Since the $2 million gift came with no strings, you’d think it would be easy enough for UC to drop the name and fundraise for a new naming-rights deal. Seems like a win-win for everyone involved, unless you’re really committed to whitewashing Marge Schott’s legacy.

This isn’t a new issue: universities have been grappling with similar issues for years, and in many cases with unsatisfactory results. Take the University of North Dakota, which plays hockey games at Ralph Engelstad Arena. This is another tangled legacy in action: Engelstad, a former UND hockey player, ensured that his family would retain control of the arena while at the same time embedding thousands of Fighting Sioux logos throughout the facility. Eventually, the school was ordered by the NCAA to drop the Fighting Sioux branding–a move that was also ratified by 67% of North Dakota voters in a public referendum. Adding to Engelstad’s tangled legacy: he was enthusiastic collector of Nazi memorabilia and hosted Adolph Hitler birthday parties at his Las Vegas Imperial Palace casino.

We will undoubtedly see more instances where facility names will be questioned in the college athletics world. This is already a growing movement in the academic world, and it’s hard to imagine that the same level of scrutiny applied to academic buildings won’t be applied to athletic facilities.

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