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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.