Assiniboine Community College’s president says he was "surprised" at a list of overtly racist team names entered into this past weekend’s volleyball tournament hosted by the school’s students’ association.
"Sand Diggers," "Crazy Diggas" and "Diggas in Paris" (in reference to the Jay-Z and Kanye West song "Niggas in Paris") were among the 73 team names entered into the annual Sun of a Beach volleyball tournament this year.
"If I were part of the students’ association, I wouldn’t have wanted to approve those," ACC president Mark Frison said.
Tylor Johnson, president of the ACC Students’ Association, said while there are no official rules set out regarding names, the registered names did go through a screening process. He said he believed the names weren’t offensive and there were others which were asked to be changed before the tournament began.
"There were a lot of teams that were borderline, obviously we see some here at the tournament, but there was a screening process and we were back and forth with the teams that were overly-aggressive and stepping over that boundary," he told the Sun.
In reference to the name "Sand Diggers," Johnson said he didn’t know the name was a racially charged play on words of an extremely offensive term for people of Arab descent.
"To be honest with you, I don’t know the derogatory meaning of that," he said.
Johnson said no one voiced any objections to the team names and added the association doesn’t want to get too aggressive with rules impacting the creativity of teams.
"Being that it’s the sport of volleyball — digs, sets, it works out well — we don’t want to take away ... a lot of the cleverness and the creativity of these names, that’s the reason why people come out for this," he said.
"If we start taking that away, or being too aggressive with it, we’re probably going to lose registrations."
Organizers refer to a list of team names which have been refused in the past, Johnson added.
"It’s unfortunate some people may construe it as a racial thing, but we haven’t had any issues with it."
Frison said the ACCSA is an "autonomous, arms-length body from the institution," but said it would be well-advised for it to "look at the community standards" and weed-out names that are going to be offensive.
"I do understand that historically, they have gone through the names and even on occasion have asked folks to change them, so the ones you list, I am sort of surprised they would have made it through that process," he said.
"They make their own decisions about these things, but these certainly aren’t names that I would endorse."
After reiterating the ACCSA has no connection with the school’s administration, he did say the names don’t do any favours for the otherwise well-received annual event put on by the representatives of the student body.
"Sun of a Beach is a fabulous event and has been for almost 30 years and I’m sure situations like this don’t help to promote what a great activity this is, not only for our students, but for the entire community of Brandon."
A black player of one of the teams in question, who wished not to be named, said he had little issue with his team name at first.
"When I heard our name, I thought of digging like in volleyball, but I slept on it," he said.
Given the spirit of the event, he said the names don’t offend him, but if someone were to use that language in another setting, he would be offended.
"The team names don’t offend me, but if someone comes up to me and says that, that offends me."
He said he didn’t have anything to do with the coming up with the name and he said he believes a written policy should be put to a vote before organizers ban racially-sensitive team names.
"It was a team thing, I didn’t have much say in it," he said. "I think next year, it should go to a vote."
He admitted the name "Sand Diggers" is offensive to both black people and people of Arab descent but said the other two names wouldn’t be as offensive if the teams were made up of black players.
One white teammate said he didn’t see the names as offensive until asked by the Brandon Sun.
Sun of a Beach is the students’ association's main annual event for the year drawing in players from outside the city, and some of the proceeds go to the school’s emergency food bank.