Emails: Calls to update U. of Utah’s fight song evoked anger, pain
Emails • Opinions differ, but most comments are in favor of keeping the traditional lyrics.
Published: July 7, 2014 04:59PM
Updated: July 7, 2014 08:42PM
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Steve Grifffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City - The "muss" gets into the game during second half action of the University of Utah versus Louisville football game at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake city Saturday Sep 26, 2009.

Most University of Utah fans who offered opinions on whether to change the school’s fight song opposed the idea, sharing their memories and hopes of singing it — as is — with everyone from grandparents to future children.

But others felt that ignoring calls to update the lyrics of “Utah Man” would be damaging, even dangerous.

READ MORE: Hear from even more commenters who weighed in on changes to “Utah Man.”

One freshman, who identified himself or herself as gay, began to feel unsafe on campus as the debate escalated. Student government leaders passed a resolution in April encouraging U. President David Pershing to change certain words — such as “Utah man,” “coeds” and “fairest — to become more inclusive

“I feel unsafe because the people who don’t support changing the fight song have tried to shift the conversation from the issue at hand to one about ‘whiny progressives,’ ” the student wrote. “I feel unsafe because I’m attending a university that may allow a majority to marginalize a minority on campus for the sake of tradition.”

After the U. tweeted an invitation to send comments via email, the student wrote, someone responded with a tweet that said, “This is nothing more than a few gay[s] and lesbians confused about their sexuality trying to push an agenda.”

If U. leaders don’t change the song, the student wrote, “they are conceding to a portion of the student body that is more interested in connection to a racist, sexist, exclusionary past, than they are to a better future. The decision about the fight song is no longer about the lyrics, it is now symbolic of the way the university represents its students.”

Pershing announced last week that he had decided to make changes. When printed, the lyrics “a Utah man” will be accompanied by the alternative “fan,” and “our coeds are the fairest” will become “our students are the brightest,” although Pershing invited fans to sing whichever version they favor.

The president’s office received about 1,300 comments, including 326 on its Facebook page and more than 900 emails. The Salt Lake Tribune acquired the emails, which had been edited to obscure the names of current students, through a request under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

About 84 percent of the writers strongly opposed any changes, pleading with leaders to keep tradition alive and objecting to what they saw as political correctness.

Several threatened to withdraw funding, cancel season tickets — or even sing the Brigham Young University “Rise and Shout” fight song instead of a revised “Utah Man.”

“I don’t appreciate a few dumb kids even having the ability to make this an issue ... I will never donate another dollar to the University of Utah,” said 1997 graduate John Bursell.

Jake Neerings, Class of 2013, wrote: “I am so sick and tired of people being overly politically correct. Seriously, there is nothing wrong with the song. There is something wrong with society when this is ‘offensive.’ This ‘change’ is such bullsh--.”

Andrew Young wrote: “One or two liberals that expect to get their way when they cry are ruining it for everyone else. Do not be bullied by these cry babies.”

A current student wrote: “These are just stupid little seeds of ideas that can sprout and cause anger all over a campus, or county or even state! Kill the seed before it grows.”

Almost half the emails came from alumni reminiscing about singing the fight song with pride after the football team scored a touchdown — sometimes remembering being a kid attending a game with parents and grandparents who were alumni.

“My great-uncle has been singing this song his whole life. He’s 80,” Austen Paulsen wrote. “Every time I go to see him, he wants to sing this song with me.”

Rebecca Smith, Class of 2000, reflected on childhood football games in the school’s old football stadium, sitting amid scant crowds “in cold, worn, wooden stadium seats with my dad until the final seconds ticked off the clock — regardless of the final score. And when the band commenced playing “Utah Man,” the score didn’t matter, we still sung it loud and proud.”

Scott Holdeman wrote that he looks forward to teaching the lyrics to his own children. “I’m hoping to be one of those cheesy parents that videotapes their kids singing it and posting it so all of our friends can see it.”

A number of emails provided dictionary definitions of man, coed and fairest.

“Someone’s opinion on what is offensive should not matter more than my opinion, which is that man refers to mankind and calling coeds fair is a lovely compliment,” Lee Petersen wrote. “Use facts to make decisions, not opinions.”

Several writers raised concerns about activities sponsored by student government, the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU), such as movies and music they considered misogynistic.

“The ASUU claims to be concerned about the inclusion of women, but it seems that their actions belie their words,” alumnus Craig Moir said about a showing of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” “If this was truly an area they wanted to make a difference in, and not just an agenda being pushed by a few individuals, this movie would never have been sponsored by them. I saw that movie and was very uncomfortable with the way it portrayed women.”

About 12 percent of the commenters approved the changes and said the song has always made them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Alumna Chloe Judkins wrote: “Each time the fight song is sung, I cringe due to the sexist, non-inclusive nature of the lyrics. ... It embarrasses me as a member of the alumni. Some [have] asked me why we have such a “misogynistic” fight song. That critique, coupled with the fact that we demean an entire ethnicity of human beings by parading them around as our mascot ... makes me uncomfortable and, at times, embarrassed to reveal my close association with the University of Utah.”

Lee Anne Walker, who graduated in 1979 with a law degree, said: “I always hated that song. It felt like something very dated way back when. And [it] made me feel like an outsider. It seemed to be for males who were drinking together — and talking about females, not as peers included in the party but as objects or possessions. ‘Our coeds are fair...’ obviously wasn’t referring to outstanding future jurists. ... Hope the decision is not to be made by old white males nostalgic for sexism, racism and drinking.”

Glade Ellingson, who earned a doctorate in 1990 and has been a staff member for 25 years, said, “I feel strongly that it is past time that we address the university-condoned sexism that is the ‘Utah Man’ fight song. Tradition is an insufficient reason to maintain lyrics. ... Although I have long been a Utah Man, I have never been entirely comfortable singing the song and no longer do so.”

Some commenters submitted alternate lyrics. Others requested an entirely new song, describing the “Utah Man” melody as “clunky” and “old-fashioned,” with one offering provisional support for the existing song “until you can get Billy Joel, Elton John or Paul McCartney to write us a new one.”

There also was substantial support for restoring the original lyric that preceded the coed line: “We drink our stein of lager and smoke our big cigars.”