As nationwide protests against police brutality and racism demand change to current laws and institutions, the ripple effects are reaching historic symbols of white supremacy.
The effort to dismantle, relocate or rename symbols is happening in the sports world as well.
Athletes have gotten involved in a potential name change at the University of Cincinnati.
Schott owned Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1999. To say she was controversial is an understatement. Her racial and ethnic slurs against African American, Jewish and Japanese people prompted a one-year ban from baseball in 1993. After publicly praising Adolf Hitler in a 1996 ESPN interview, Schott was forced to give up day-to-day control of the Reds until 1998.
Schott also was known as a philanthropist in Cincinnati — she gave money, through her foundation, to the city zoo, hospitals and the university. In 2006, the Bearcats named their baseball stadium after Schott, following a foundation gift of $2 million to the school’s athletic programs.
University of Cincinnati pitcher Nathan Moore has played home games at Marge Schott Stadium for the past four years. But it wasn’t until he heard about former teammate Ramey’s petition that he learned about Schott’s past.
Moore has since become an outspoken supporter of the petition drive, saying the call for a stadium name change should be “a really simple decision” for the university.
“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.”
Beyond the statement, the university says no one will comment further.
Moore says he was initially conflicted when he discovered the university named the stadium after Schott 14 years ago.
“I was honestly confused as to why nothing was done before,” he told NPR. “But I didn’t want to waste too much time on that. I knew I had a powerful voice and a platform to use, so, I was done waiting around for someone to do it I guess.
“Honestly, I mean no disrespect to Marge Schott and I’m sure she had good intentions, but just from my beliefs personally, money that comes from somebody who has that hatred in her heart for fellow human beings, is not money worth accepting in my opinion.”
Rob Yowell wasn’t part of the negotiations between UC and the Schott Foundation. But as president of Gemini Sports Group, an agency that specializes in stadium naming rights, he’s been in similar negotiations and he has a pretty good idea what happened in 2006.
“[The university] could’ve said no,” Yowell said, “but I imagine there wasn’t anyone else in line with a $2 million check [for the school’s athletic programs]. They made a business decision at that point.”
As far as what UC will do now, Yowell said a decision could be made based on the current environment and the school’s ability to get new money.
“At the end of the day,” Yowell said, “[the university] wants a piece of inventory in naming rights to try to sell [to someone else] and generate money. And at the same time, distance itself from an individual who’s been identified in the past as someone very insensitive to race.”
He says the university wouldn’t have to return the $2 million “because at this point, it’s a gift. You’re talking about 14-plus years. It’s not like this happened in recent history. They gave a lump-sum donation.”
There’s precedent, however, for a similar controversy prompting a donation return. Although it happened in a much smaller window of time.
In 2014, UCLA returned nearly a half million dollars donated by the Donald Sterling Charitable Foundation, and canceled what would’ve been a $3 million, multiyear gift from the former NBA owner.
UCLA acted after racist comments Sterling made were revealed that year, which ultimately led to his lifetime ban from the NBA. He also was forced to sell his team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
In this time of free-flowing anger after the killing of George Floyd in police custody, there’s little tolerance for those whose words have contributed to the country’s toxic racial environment. No doubt, Marge Schott was a contributor. But with her life back in public view, there’s talk of a legacy that’s more complex. That is certainly the case in Cincinnati, where she was born and where she died in 2004.
On that day 16 years ago, Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty wrote this:
“The true measure of a person is whether he or she leaves a place better than he or she found it. Is Cincinnati better for having raised and rooted Marge Schott?
“Good Marge competed with Bad Marge, daily.”
Now the University of Cincinnati has to navigate this dual legacy, although thousands of petition signers see nothing complex about Marge Schott. They see a name on a stadium representing a person whose words directly contradict one of the school’s stated goals: to foster a community that prioritizes inclusion.
A spokesman for the Schott Foundation declined a request to talk about the petition, but provided this statement:
“The Schott Foundation continues on its mission to support and find qualified charitable programs and organizations for the betterment of the greater Cincinnati community. The foundation will support its community partners in any decisions that will progress unity of purpose and stand against prejudice in any manner.”
Meanwhile, there is a similar renaming effort at Clemson University in South Carolina.
NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins, a wide receiver with the Arizona Cardinals, and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, both Clemson alums, are joining a petition drive calling for the university to change the name of its Calhoun Honors College. John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president of the United States in the 1820s and 30s, was a strong proponent of slavery. Clemson, according to the university’s website, is built on Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation, where he owned “some 70-80 enslaved African-Americans.”
The Greenville News reports the honors college director sent an email to students that said:
“The decision on any change in the college’s name does not rest with us; such decisions are the purview of University leadership, which is aware of the situation. We have heard your concerns and wishes, have shared those with others, and will continue to make sure those voices for change are heard.”