Meet the Redbirds: McGill University announces name change for men's varsity athletics teams

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By Amy Luft, CTV Montreal

MONTREAL — McGill University has announced the new name for its men's varsity athletic teams: The McGill Redbirds.

The move by the Montreal university comes after a more than two-year battle to change the name "Redmen" because of its negative connotations in Indigenous communities.

The student campaign was led by former McGill student-athlete Tomas Jirousek, who told CTV that he was "excited to finally close this chapter" once and for all.

"It’s been quite a few years of my life that I’ve been talking about the name,” he said. 

“I think it could have been a more exciting name than ‘Redbirds,’ but it’s not offensive, it’s not racist, I don’t think it offends anybody, and so I think that’s a win it itself.”

McGill University announced in April 2019 it would change the name of all its men’s varsity sports teams, doing away with the “Redmen” slur.

The new named was picked after “extensive consultation, debate and deliberation,” according to a letter released by Fabrice Labeau, McGill University’s deputy provost of student life and learning.

As a former varsity athlete at McGill, and a member of a First Nation himself, Jirousek said he was uncomfortable with the former name that comes from a racist term for Indigenous people.

“As a varsity athlete at McGill, it was so difficult to reconcile carrying that really damaging legacy of what it meant to be a Redmen, while at the same time being a proud Blackfoot person,” he said.

Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador chief Ghislain Picard also commented on the change.

“Here you have, again, an issue that certainly has a consensus – I think [there were] strong proponents of that name change and we can only support that action as long as it has consensus at its base, and it’s certainly true in this area,” he said.

Jirousek said the battle to change the name came with support from many students, faculty and media, even if the school administration took months to make up their minds (Jirousek was later named valedictorian for his faculty).

That support was “really the biggest positive takeaway from this,” he said.

“We as Indigenous peoples, we as Indigenous students, saw that non-Indigenous students are really ready and willing to be allies when we need them to. And that was more empowering that anything else ever could have been.”

The women's teams will continue to be called the McGill Martlets.

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