T-shirts are an important part of Tommie-Johnnie rivalry

Editor’s Note: Throughout the week, TommieMedia will be featuring stories on the upcoming Tommie-Johnnie game. Make sure to check out the Tommie-Johnnie coverage page for daily updates.

When Ignatius O’Shaughnessy was expelled from St. John’s for a beer bust, he came to St. Thomas. Years later, he donated huge chunks of money to our school and now multiple buildings on the St. Paul campus bear the name of one of our greatest benefactors. St. John’s doesn’t have any O’Shaughnessy halls. He didn’t give them squat.

That stuff is how rivalries are born.

This year, the buildup to the annual clash in our school’s great rivalry is having a shadow cast on it by the administration’s commitment to clamp down on students’ T-shirts at the game.

I get where they’re coming from. I can see why people would say some shirts go too far. Maybe some do. But to threaten black marks on disciplinary records is too much.

Coming up with T-shirts that take jabs at St. John’s has been a tradition for as long as I’ve been at school here, and I think it’s a good one. Rivalries don’t get stronger by students making shirts that say how great the other school is and how much respect you have for them. That’s just not the way competition works.

Rivalries are about much more than what happens on the field. If it were only about what happened for 60 minutes of football once a year, St. Thomas would be out of luck. We haven’t won in Collegeville since 1986. If nothing else, our school needs creative outlets like T-shirts to distract the Johnnies from the fact that they’ve whooped our butts for longer than the current student body has been alive.

Unfortunately, the school’s threats toward T-shirt makers of the future will ruin that outlet for competitive spirit. How are people going to make shirts when they’re worried the school will deem what they have to say “inappropriate” and give them a black mark on their record for seven years after graduating? I wouldn’t be up for rolling the dice by making a T-shirt, and I can’t imagine future students will be, either.

If T-shirts can no longer be the traditional pre-game outlet for students, what will be? Vandalism? Physical pranks at St. John’s or toward its students? When it comes down to the other things students could be doing, T-shirts are pretty harmless.

Students don’t appreciate being censored and they certainly don’t appreciate being openly threatened by their school. The school has cited concern for the family environment of the game. Concerns were raised by one of this year’s shirts that describes Bennies in unsavory sexual terms.

What eight-year-old kid is going to understand what that T-shirt means? None. If parents are concerned about their children being exposed to non-family-friendly sights, don’t bring them to an intense rivalry game where thousands of drunk college students are going to be. The things that will be yelled by students on Saturday are far worse than anything that has ever made its way onto a T-shirt, and that’s never going to change. Bottom line is, the T-shirts are not that bad.

I wonder if anyone in our administration has ever been to a Michigan-Ohio State game? It’s insane the kinds of stuff students say about the other schools, and, in comparison, our T-shirts look like PG-rated shenanigans. But the passion students show at those big-school games proves they care about the rivalry. They want to show their school is better. The T-shirts do the same thing for St. Thomas.

The competitive spirit of the Tommie-Johnnie game is a great experience for both schools, and for years the tradition of making T-shirts for the game has added to that experience. I’m worried this crackdown by the school is a major step toward ruining the rivalry. I wonder what students in coming years will turn to in order to show they still care about the rivalry, if they’re worried about being black-marked because of a T-shirt. I’m willing to bet it will be worse than comparing a Bennie to a roller coaster.

Jordan Osterman can be reached at jrosterman@stthomas.edu.

22 Replies to “T-shirts are an important part of Tommie-Johnnie rivalry”

  1. “What eight-year-old kid is going to understand what that T-shirt means?”

    Ok, but how about entire female demographic above the age of 8?

    “Students don’t appreciate being censored and they certainly don’t appreciate being openly threatened by their school.”

    Nor do members of minority groups on campus (e.g., LGBTQ) appreciate the hostile environment created by said T-Shirts.

    Would you say the same thing about racist t-shirts? As long as they’re “not that bad”?

  2. “They want to show their school is better.”
    – Being horribly crude is not the way to do this. I’m all for students making t-shirts, but I wish people would make t-shirts that don’t make me embarrassed to call myself a Tommie.

  3. “If parents are concerned about their children being exposed to non-family-friendly sights, don’t bring them to an intense rivalry game where thousands of drunk college students are going to be.”  Thats a cop-out excuse. Just because an action is occurring doesn’t justify that action.  Why should parents be the ones to not attend a sporting event. Truthfully the drunk college students should be the ones asked to leave, not families.

  4. What I don’t understand is why these shirts need to be inappropriate and offensive. I’m all for school rivalry, but I don’t even GO to the schools our shirts “make fun” of and I still am both embarrassed and offended by them. This is one tradition that just needs to end. It’s disgusting and degrading.

  5. I think you miss the point of what the outcry over the Tommie-Johnnie shirts is aimed at, Mr. Osterman.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy competition and rivalry.  The key-word here is “healthy.”  If students resort to sexist, homophobic, and misogynistic tactics to express a rivalry, it is certainly not healthy.  Shirts questioning the physical appearance and masculinity of our rival schools’ students has nothing to do with the nature of our rivalry.  Our student body is better than this.  We can rise above childish and offensive name-calling and use creativity to continue our rivalry in a healthy fashion.

  6. I too think this has been blown out of proportion. I understand St. Thomas and St. John’s need to distance themselves from the shirts, but the student body reaction seems insincere. I doubt most people even care, and the few that do are just more vocal about it.
    St. Thomas coddles underage drinkers (compare UST’s underage drinking policy to St. Paul’s), yet their strongest show of force to stop a negative image of Tommies is to come down on t-shirts? Quite frankly I am disappointed that this is even an issue worth mentioning. A cotton shirt with some inappropriate words is immature I’ll admit, but it does not bring into question the maturity level of the campus or even the individual. I have a Johnnie/Tommie shirt from last year folded next to my Take Back the Night (anti-rape movement) shirt, and my “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” shirt so what?

    The fact is that this is nothing out of the ordinary, especially where sports and alcohol mix. If they aren’t wearing it they’ll be cheering it.

  7. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the point of this article is not weather or not the shirts are inappropriate- we can all agree that many are- but rather, the university is being quite excessive in their threats to stamp out any offensive T-shirts. Black marks on my student record for wearing a T-shirt? Please. This is honestly just one more step this university is taking that I just can’t be on board with. I get it, I really do- but may the punishment fit the crime. There is no need to threaten students with permanent black marks on a disciplinary record (whether it affects job opportunities or not). Banning party buses to St. Johns, banning T-shirts that may or may not be appropriate, etc. Back off St. Thomas, this is getting ridiculous.

  8. Patrick- if you read the original article, it explicitly states that wearing one of the offensive t-shirt will get you kicked out of the stadium and selling them will get you a black mark on your disciplinary record. It also explicitly stated that the administration is not going out of their way to punish students, but is only responding to complaints they receive.

    And Brett, frankly I find it odd that you are concerned enough with gender equality to self-identify as a feminist, and then also think that if students want to wear sexist and homophobic t-shirts en masse at school sporting events it’s a non issue.

  9. I honestly don’t see the oddity. I am not my shirt, nor does it embody all relevant information about be. I’m not inclined to believe the “damage” done by these t-shirts is a cause for concern or warrants the disciplinary action by UST.

    If someone sees my shirt and labels me a homophobic sexist they are wrong, plain and simple. If they think I condone sexism they are wrong, plain and simple. This extrapolation of insulting Johnnies/Bennies to being some misogynistic and homophobic individual is absurd. Not only that, it undermines the true efforts done by people attempting to fix these social ills.

    Focus on what is relevant without throwing these red herrings about t-shirts. Again, while I agree they are immature, I vehemently refute the claim that they cause widespread damage to anyone. In the same vein, feminist and UST Allies shirts doesn’t fix the problems of homophobia and sexism. It is surprising that someone would give so much relevance to a phrase and a picture on t-shirt worn for one event a year.

  10. [From my understanding.]

    Regulating speech whether or not it is seen as inappropriate is not a solution. A statement on a t-shirt, a form of speech, is not and should not be the victim of censorship.

    I understand that St. Thomas is a private entity and thereby is not required to adhere to respecting the rights given in the first amendment when dealing with matters on its privately owned property. In California there is The Leonard Law that requires equal treatment of matters of free speech on campuses, private or public. 

    My problem is not with UST regulating , but rather with the method it uses, and that it is picking and choosing situations in which the definition of “unacceptable” is applied or morphed.

    Unless UST creates and enforces a dress code for persons on its properties(and even then, the code could only be enforced for on-campus matters), singling out individual groups to censor is a poor practice by the administration of UST.

    What happens at SJU is SJU’s matter, frankly UST has no say as to what happens off their properties regardless of how it make affect the image of the UST, if they want to address it , libel is a legal issue. If UST wants to deal with off-campus matters, they should deal with them off-campus.

    On what grounds did UST…

  11. To the best of my knowledge, I made no extrapolation that wearing a sexist or homophobic T-shirt necessarily makes one sexist or homophobic. I am saying that a campus culture which condones the wearing of such shirts contributes to the creation of a hostile environment for minority and disenfranchised groups on campus. Note Chris’ second comment on the opinion piece arguing against the T-shirts.

  12. The only hostility the aforementioned groups would face is from those that devalue the groups (a sexist or racist for example). I fail to see the shirt’s relevance in the issue. Will the shirts make sexists more open about their opinions? Will it cause more people to think the same way?

    Regarding Chris’ point:
    In the wake of several suicides of LGBTQ students across the country this week, are we really trying to say that directly attacking someone’s sexuality is all in good fun? The shirts are pushing our community further into bigotry and marginalize more than half our campus (women + LBGTQ). I’ve heard a lot of people say things like “yeah, but its tradition” or “but its a friend of mine making the shirts.” Thats a cop out and we should really work toward building a more inclusive campus culture.

    That is quite honestly one of the most offensive and manipulative things I have read on the issue. There are deep and meaningful explanations for what drove the LGBTQ students to suicide and to bring their death into a discussion about feuding schools’ t-shirts is absurd. I optimistically await the day t-shirts are the biggest problem facing LGBTQ students. 

    I refuse to buy into the fear element of the dangerous of a t-shirt. Or the gross injustice…

  13. “What happens at SJU is SJU’s matter, frankly UST has no say as to what happens off their properties regardless of how it make affect the image of the UST, if they want to address it ”

    You are aware that your student code of conduct calls for Tommies to act reasonably and responsibly on and off site. Additionally, as a Tommie, you are expected to uphold the Christian ideals of the university no matter what your physical location or involvement. This is why UST is able to punish students when they drink off campus for example. I can tell you from personal experience with the administration that there is no way they would let this shirt fly on or off campus.

  14. Brett- “There are deep and meaningful explanations for what drove the LGBTQ students to suicide and to bring their death into a discussion about feuding schools’ t-shirts is absurd. I optimistically await the day t-shirts are the biggest problem facing LGBTQ students.” First, I (nor Chris) never said that t-shirts were the biggest problem. Second, the point is not that the T-shirts are part of a school rivalry- it’s about how we choose to express that rivalry (i.e. in sexist/homophobic ways or not). Third, an account of how prejudicial humor normalizes discrimination: http://www.prometheus6.org/files/Social%20Consequences%20of%20Disparagement%20Humor-A%20Prejudiced%20Norm%20Theory.pdf

    Evidence that prejudicial humor creates conditions where people are more likely to act on their prejudicial biases: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071106083038.htm

    And evidence that insults based on a marginalized group identity may do more harm to public regard for individuals within that group than attacks of a more substantive nature: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20100923/1awomen23_st.art.htm

  15. I do not think your ideals are wrong just that this application is misplaced. Work for a non-discriminatory society. Work to eliminate sexism and homophobia both on-campus and off.

    However, there are two elements at work here none of which you are choosing to acknowledge. UST made no statement about any of the issues you bring up in announcing their ban. This was an image-driven decision, not a societal issue they hoped to fix one football game at a time. Secondly, the greatest possible outcome would be when the students felt it unnecessary to wear these shirts to the game. A decision they are less likely to reach when they are being forced in to it. 

    While I enjoy the occasional immature joke I know how to draw the line at a t-shirt and no let that dictate my societal views. Your cited studies did little to mention how education combats the tendency to normalize discrimination. I think the negative is negligible in terms of societal damage if it presents the opportunity for self-expression and becoming more mature.

    UST is correct in their assessment that the shirts reflect negatively which is why UST shouldn’t sell such shirts. Anything beyond that is wasted effort as students will (and did) wear the inappropriate shirts anyways.

  16. 1. I would argue that not allowing these sorts of t-shirts is part of working for a non-discriminatory society (at least in so far as my rights to wear what I want shouldn’t ought-weigh the rights of marginalized community members to be a part of a campus community that treats them with respect and dignity, and at most in so far as allowing disparagement humor creates a culture in which more serious forms of discrimination are tolerated).

    2. I am debating this with you, not the administration.

    3. It’s an image issue in virtue of being a societal issue.

    4. There are numerous studies on the same matter (some of which I cited above) where the study subjects were college students.

    6. There’s extensive research that suggests that otherwise well-intentioned folks who consider themselves decidedly not-racist, not sexist, etc. do form implicit biases unconsciously. If you can unconsciously draw a line at a t-shirt, kudos to you.

    5. How exactly is “self-expression” through disparagement a positive?

  17. 1. I do not think it is sufficient to work towards a good if not done so towards the best of ones abilities. Working towards a non-discriminatory society is the bare minimum and that alone does not warrant support particularly when there are better options.
    2. I did not know I had implied something else. I do think it prudent that you distinguish between your views and those of the administration though.
    3. Its virtue remains obscured and completely neglected by the administration. I believe you give it too much credit.
    4. I doubt you are trying to make the argument that being a college student means being educated on sexism and homophobia. That was the education I was referring to.
    5. Self-expression when repressed in any manner isn’t really self-expression is it? I may want to suppress differing opinions than my own, but if I could do that we wouldn’t be have this conversation. It is a valuable and necessary gamble to allow people free reign to express themselves. The main positive being once expressed it is easily identified and with education it can change.

    6. Not unconsciously, consciously. I may think a sexist thought or even act in a homophobic way, but through personal reflections and reprimandations of friends and families I am reminded of my faults.

  18. 1. I would argue that working towards a non-discriminatory society to the best of one’s abilities entails working in a manner that is as complete as possible, i.e. tackling “small problems” (e.g. the t-shirts in question) as well as “big problems.”

    2.Since I am obviously not the voice of the administration I didn’t think it was necessary or relevant.

    3. I’d be curious to know why you think that.

    4.Since the relevant issue is the effect on the community environment, which is made up primarily of college students—a large portion of which are not educated on homophobia and sexism—it stands to reason that the demographics of the study participants are analogous to the demographics at UST. So I guess I’m not certain why one would think the study results are not applicable (or are negligible) here.

    5. Are you saying if the KKK wanted to start up a chapter on campus, we should let them? I’m all for retaining the legal right to free speech (with certain exceptions, e.g. terroristic threats, etc.)—but that’s a separate issue from what we allow on campus, and from community members, e.g. one might have the legal right to say what they want, but if that includes sexually harassing a co-worker, that wouldn’t entail a right to retaining one’s job.

  19. 6. Even if I were to grant that what you’re saying were to completely negate the effect, if you don’t happen to reflect on something, or someone doesn’t happen to reprimand you, the unconscious effect would remain.

    7. Necessary for what? That’s ambiguous. (Ok, now I’m just arguing for the sake of arguing. :) )

  20. 1. Realistically there must exist a limited supply on resources to expend on a cause. I would devote 100% of said resources toward solving the discrimination in society by educating individuals poorly founded ideas on why discrimination is acceptable before tackling t-shirts.

    2. I meant what do you agree/disagree with the UST administration on. I disagree with everything they’ve done in relation to this situation. I’m not sure where you stand.

    3. UST’s administration has yet to announce that social change in regards to discrimination was a motivation in their policy making. They’ve only admitted it was inappropriate at a family event, and it doesn’t represent UST.

    4. I’m saying it provides a lot of questions just no answers. How can education of the issue vs a ban on discriminatory actions benefit the community. Which is a better benefit, that is, which should be focused on. The studies are useful only until I said I’ll accept there is a negative with normalizing discrimination.

    5. I wouldn’t want them as a club, but I wouldn’t ban all KKK-related clothing from campus. That’d just make them harder to find.
    6. Correct, if I could somehow exist in a vaccuum I would be unchanged. However, no one at UST can exist in a vaccuum.
    7. This was added to 6.

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