When the building now known as Mizzou Arena opened in 2004, Paige Laurie was a recent graduate of the University of Southern California and heir to one of the nation’s greatest fortunes. She was also the namesake of the new MU basketball center.
Paige Sports Arena, as it was called when the Missouri men defeated center Missouri in an exhibition game on Nov. 4, 2004, was paid in part by a $ 25 million donation from Laurie’s parents. , Bill and Nancy Laurie, the niece and nephew-in-laws of Walmart founder Sam Walton. The Lauries, both from Missouri who had raised their daughter in Columbia, used the leverage of their donation to name the building after Paige, who had never had any formal ties to MU. It was a questionable decision, but one that didn’t seem too controversial – for about a month.
In November, Paige Laurie was accused of paying a former classmate to do her homework at USC. Laurie then returned her diploma and MU was forced to change the name of the arena rather than continue to carry the name of a known cheater. The Paige Sports Arena became the Mizzou Arena even before the Tigers had a chance to play a conference game there.
Missouri fans can look back and laugh at the brief episode now, but the Laurie incident was in some ways an early, PG-rated precursor of an issue that now seems to be more pressing than ever: stadiums and the like. buildings on college campuses that are named after people who come under scrutiny. Many institutions had to either resist or accept the change in response to activists who pointed out flaws in an individual’s legacy represented on campus.
It is a question complicated by historical attitudes, tradition and, of course, money.
“Campuses see names as assets,” said Derek Alderman, a geography professor at the University of Tennessee who focuses on critical studies of place names. “So part of what they do is they engage in a lot of donations and a lot of people give money, and there’s a real understanding that if you give enough money, you In a way, you would be made immortal, you would be immortalized, and your contribution would be immortalized by putting your name on a building.
This is the process the Lauries and many others have used to attach their names to campus buildings, large and small, but it has not always been so. Until recent decades, names were more likely to be assigned to honor someone who hadn’t necessarily donated money – a historical figure, an academic official, or an accomplished alumnus. If something was named after a donor, it was more of an informal gesture of thanks than a written pact.
“If you go back to the 19th and 20th centuries, you see places like libraries and artifacts named after wealthy philanthropists such as Carnegie,” said Reuben Rose-Redwood, professor of geography at the University of Victoria in Canada. . “There wasn’t necessarily a naming rights contract that said, ‘If I give you this money, you’ll put my name on this building.’ The nomination was an honorary title that came after the gift in many cases. What has happened over the past few decades is that it has become much more contractual in the form of the sale of limited-time naming rights to buildings and other sports and other arenas on campus. academics. “
Once schools realized the lucrative potential of commodifying naming rights, it became more common to see places named after donors. Pauley Pavilion, UCLA’s historic basketball arena, was an early example. It opened in 1966 after Edwin W. Pauley, a regent of the university, donated nearly a fifth of the cost of construction.
“Money is so important when it comes to naming rights that I don’t think you’ll see arenas or stadiums built and named after someone (without them paying for it),” he said. Washington Post sportsman Kevin Blackistone said. columnist and professor of journalism at the University of Maryland. “I think those days are over, even on college campuses, because it’s a source of income.”
While the pace of selling building names has picked up in recent times, the pace at which names and other symbols have come under scrutiny for what they stand for and what they suggest about the values of a institution has accelerated. Many of the most notable examples involve people linked to slavery, Confederation or other forms of racism.
“I think right now we’re in a time when people are paying a lot more attention to memorials and monuments than ever before,” Alderman said.
There is no shortage of examples of names that have been removed from stadiums and other buildings in recent years. Blackistone recalled how the student-led activism of the day led to the name change of the Maryland football stadium in 2015. The original namesake, Harry “Curley” Byrd, was a coach and administrator who supported segregation.
In 2018, the University of Louisville removed “Papa John’s” from its football stadium name after John Schnatter, the founder of the pizza chain, was discovered to have used a racial slur. In early 2020, the University of California, Berkeley removed the name Boalt from a law school building after a professor uncovered racist writing by John Boalt, a 19th-century lawyer who had won the case. money that had been donated to the school after his death.
The list goes on and on, and there are always more names questioned. So, as the pitfalls of naming places after people become clearer, why are universities continuing to do so? Rose-Redwood, who served for two years on the University of Victoria’s facilities nominating committee, said there was more to the money.
“In Western European culture there is this tradition of naming places after people,” he said. “And I really think it relates to the ideology of individualism within western culture, this idea that we have to recognize the individual, rather than saying the community or the collective or the society more broadly.”
Therein lies the dilemma. Naming places after people opens the door to future controversies, but given the power that names have within our culture, it can simultaneously be an important path to representation and inclusion.
“It is recognized that names can play a very important role in the social life of people,” said Alderman. “They can be a source of this violence and this kind of oppression and discrimination. They can also be a source of empowerment for those who see names in the landscape that resonate with them and help them feel they belong.
Blackistone mentioned Jack Trice Stadium, the football stadium of Iowa State University, as an example of how a name can be used to represent marginalized groups. Jack Trice became the university’s very first black athlete in 1922, but died of injuries sustained in a game in 1923. The stadium is the only FBS football site named after a black individual.
Since Paige Laurie’s name was removed from the Mizzou Arena, fans clad in black and gold have had the increasingly rare experience of watching college basketball in a building not named after a donor or corporate sponsor. A potential naming rights sale could surely generate much needed cash for a sports department that was operating in the red even before the COVID-19 crisis and still lags most of its SEC counterparts in terms of revenue.
It could be that after the Laurie episode, Missouri just wants to stay away from the naming rights issue. The sports department’s two brand new venues, Mizzou Tennis Complex and Mizzou Softball Stadium, opened without any sponsored names in 2014 and 2017, respectively. By playing it safe, MU may miss the opportunity to raise more money, but it also avoids any potential controversy.
“When we start to look at the relationship between donors and names, we have to start to really think about who the university belongs to,” Alderman said. “And we really need to start asking the tough questions about who serves the university and who does it exist for?” “