For nearly a century now, the North Carolina football team has been entertaining fans and generating revenue in a stadium that was named after a racist figure. Many of the school’s great football players have been Black. Leaving the name "Kenan" on the stadium — a name that still reflects a man who devastated and committed atrocities against the Black community — is ultimately disrespectful to Black student-athletes, coaches and fans.
An adequate name change requires a more drastic approach than redirecting the honor to another family member. Completely taking away the Kenan family history would demonstrate a true effort from the University to distance itself from a racially tainted past.
Truthfully, there is no better time for UNC to make the overdue revision.
The racial hostility that Black Americans have been victim to throughout the nation’s history is becoming more evident than ever, with the protests that have taken place after the killing of George Floyd. There has been a rise of demands to right the multitude of wrongs done against this community of people. What other option is there, for the school and the program, than to denounce the figure of supremacy that represents this stadium?
The Board of Trustees recently lifted the 16-year moratorium on changing the names of on-campus buildings. This decision was made after a petition, which garnered over 11,000 virtual signatures, was created urging the campus to do so. The moratorium was originally put in place in 2015, with the goal, as the chairperson of the Board of Trustees put it at the time, of having four generations of college students come through UNC before revisiting the subject. If it wasn’t before, it is now clear that waiting until 2031 is not an appropriate response to the tension surrounding these building names.
The return of Mack Brown has given many fans a new sense of optimism for the North Carolina football team. UNC finished with a winning record to go along with a bowl game victory last season. The program is ushering in a new era with the rise of quarterback Sam Howell and Brown’s return to Chapel Hill. Even the football field itself was recently given a new name.
A realistic option for changing the name would be to name the stadium after someone who has made a great contribution to the program. Even beyond that, someone who upholds the values that the University promotes. The name that is currently in place certainly fails to do so.
Clemson recently began the process of changing names of buildings on its campus after NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson urged the school to do so. While UNC should follow suit, it should not require a prominent alumnus speaking out to take the next step. The very students that attend the school year after year have given their voices to this issue, and this alone deserves to be respected.
Kenan Memorial Stadium is only one of many structures on campus named after a white supremacist. Numerous residence halls, academic buildings and other spaces created for student use are named after racist figures. The main difference with the stadium, however, is that tens of thousands of fans gather there week after week during the football season, sometimes on national television.
There is an existing population of people who believe in upholding the historical aspects of the campus. Some feel as though changing the name would be changing history. It could be argued just as easily that removing the names of white supremacists is a monumental step forward for the University’s reputation, welcoming a much more nuanced style of operation into the culture.
A time of growing racial unrest, paired with the new direction of UNC football, makes changing the name of the stadium a necessary action.
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