2017-2018 a winner for Athletics, bittersweet for greater DU community

This past school year was an athletic success by nearly any measure – but bittersweet in other ways.

Nearly all the athletic teams or athletes represented the Crimson and Gold in various NCAA Tournaments. And DU will be taking home their 10th Directors’ Cup as the best non-football athletic department in the land.

The highlight, of course, was the ski team garnering their 24th national title behind freshman sensation Amelia Smart. Women’s volleyball repeated as Summit champs. Women’s soccer got back on track with a Summit League tournament win at North Dakota State. Men’s soccer fell short in a heartbreaker at the Summit League tournament final to Omaha 9-8 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie in regulation. Denver Hockey won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul but fell in a stunner in the NCAA Quarterfinals to Ohio State, 5-1.  Men’s lacrosse fell in the NCAA quarterfinals, too, as the upstart Albany Great Danes slipped past the Pioneers in a thriller. Denver swimming and diving finished 22nd in the NCAA’s – their best finish since 1961-1962. Gymnastics? They made their astounding 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Women’s golf made yet another trip to the NCAA’s.

There were incredible individual performances by lacrosse player Trevor Baptiste, gymnasts Ashlyn Johnson and Maddie Karr,  tennis double pair Julia O’Loughlin and Bianca Mok, and golfer Chris Korte. Hockey player and captain Tariq Hammond made an incredible recovery from a gruesome ankle injury. Five DU hockey players fulfilled their dreams by becoming professionals. And there were more – too many to mention. There were over 25 All-Americans in DU athletics in a single season – pretty incredible.

The retirement of outstanding athletic director Peg Bradley-Doppes along with the departure of hockey head coach Jim Montgomery to the Dallas Stars were major losses. However, most fans are looking optimistically toward new AD Carlton Creech at the helm and new hockey coach David Carle behind the bench to keep Denver athletics heading in the right direction.

The Athletics year was one that saw activity beyond just the field, ice, and court. One of the most unfortunate events of the year was highlighted by the dishonest implementation of a mask ban that kept 50-year mascot ‘Denver Boone’ from Magness Arena. Even more disappointing were secretive efforts supported by DU’s very own USG student leaders and select senior Denver staff. Alumni, who funded the Denver Boone mascot to build much-needed school spirit out of their own pockets,  were never included in the discussion – even when they reached out well in advance of the ban. For a school that prides itself on community engagement, this was a failure of epic proportions. If there is ever an effort again to reconstitute a new mascot without alumni engagement, expect the same level of ‘support’ from the alumni that was shown them over the past several years.

Even more disappointing were the ill-fated efforts by a few students and staff to convey the idea that the Pioneer nickname was representative of ‘genocidal land thieves’ with the objective to change the 92-year nickname to ‘Trailblazers’. This effort showed the same lame engagement and ham-handedness as the mask ban. With no external engagement, and fully supported by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, this movement played on identity again and, as currently practiced by some at DU, attempted to simplify history, label entire groups in the worst way possible and divide people – instead of building a common understanding and seeking reconciliation.

Rather than acknowledge ‘Pioneer’ as both a noun and a verb and accept the reality that Pioneers did, indeed, found DU – they assigned the worst values to entire generations of Americans as well as University founder (John Evans’ name was quietly removed from Denver’s highest award this past year). And, at the same time, conveniently ignored the idea of a Pioneer as ‘someone experiencing or achieving something for the first time’.

And where does it all end? Change the name of Evans Avenue based on an untrue tale that John Evans was directly involved in the Sand Creek Massacre? How about changing the name of the Ritchie Center? The proceeds used to build the center were, in part, from the sale of a family ranch land on former Indian land. Change the name of DU’s Benjamin F. Stapleton Jr. Tennis Pavillion as well because he was related to KKK member and former Denver Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton? And, for the sake of intellectual purity, ‘Denver’ needs to be removed from DU uniforms. Why? James W. Denver was territorial Governor when the city of Denver land was carved out by Pioneers. And, James Denver served a highly questionable reign as the Commissioner of Indian American Affairs. There appears to be no end to righting past wrongs when playing the name game.

But, most can reasonably agree that this type of approach is the opposite of real inclusive excellence. Instead of bringing people together based on the positive attributes of each group or people, this current form of peculiar ‘inclusiveness’ is often practiced by some at DU by placing people into groups, pitting one against another, and broadly assigning collective guilt. This all results in more spite than spirit. This ‘inclusiveness’ is often practiced behind closed doors – far away from the community they say they want to engage. Unfortunately, this had a public face as well. A Native American student/community protest during a hockey game displayed a banner that read “Pioneers stole Indian land and killed Indians”. This public exhibition was another low point during this past year when meaningful dialog and engagement took a back seat to sensationalism and stereotypes – the very thing this group claims to be fighting against.

The effort by some of the current administration and staff to mold students with the express intent of crafting a single point of view is ‘intentional’ (their own words) and targeted. This coordinated effort to create a common set of values and community norms is in many ways admirable. While it is indeed admirable to establish community standards and reinforce norms, this oftentimes runs the risk of shutting down other potentially valid points of view. Vivid examples are profiled in a recent article in The College Fix. Once a group norm is established, students, professors, staff, and alumni are powerless to address an issue. The intellectual risk is the creation of a blind spot where people find themselves unable to understand or accept differences, appreciate nuance or even consider alternative points of view. Hardly a formula for success when one ventures out into the community or workplace.

And, there are some major changes in front of the greater DU. All this turbulence is occurring heading into a major fundraising effort and the execution of the 2025 Strategic Plan. There will be massive construction on campus over the next two years. With a campus divided, both literally and figuratively, some alumni and students have withdrawn their voices from DU. Others sit on the fence waiting to see what lies ahead. Yet, others have hope that our community will be reunited once again.

It’s not working.

And even Vice Chancellor Rodriguez who is in charge of Inclusive Excellence is recently quoted as saying, “we lack unity and school spirit.” She’s absolutely right. Yet her solution is to double down on the current course. What exactly do you expect when you carve people into separate groups?

It’s time to overhaul the current approach.

Things can get better. Of course, we need to be sensitive to the needs of others and support important University priorities like embracing first-generation students, supporting campus-wide diversity and inclusion and remaining open and receptive to the Native American Community to allow for meaningful dialog and mutual understanding. But ignoring tradition and scrubbing DU’s past does nothing to right past wrongs or move us forward. Not everything has to be politicized or ‘intentional’. At LetsGoDU, we believe athletics can be an important bridge to bring us all together.

DU Athletics did an outstanding job this past year. But we as a community must do better. This is not the time to disconnect. Stay involved. Stay active.

Have a great summer and let’s Go Pioneers!