Chancellors, symbols, and traditions

Last week, my colleague Chris Ivey wrote an exceptional column making the case for Nashville SC fans to embrace the Coyote as a symbolic rallying point. He did a smashing job of recounting the club’s long history with the animal, as well as making a point by point argument for why the coyote, and why now. As far as I could tell, the reaction to his column was very positive. It certainly was taken up with vigor by many of the fans with whom I most closely associate. 

That said, the voices that expressed concern about the idea of taking up the Coyote fell into a number of camps. There were those who simply weren’t around long enough to know the origin points. There were those who (in my mind) inexplicably thought this animal mascot would be “too generic.” And finally, there were a number of posts who argued that mascots, songs, expressions, should all be “organic” and emerge from the fans.

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As I have on other occasions, it’s the final issue that I want to discuss here.  ’m not so interested in talking about it in terms of the Coyote—Chris and others addressed those issues well and better than I possibly could—but in the more general sense of what gets embraced, what gets started, what rituals, ideas and customs become part of our fabric, as Chris poignantly observed.

While I absolutely share some of the skepticism toward “Official NSC” attempts to create tradition (yeah, yeah, while I like the Never Give Up On You song and think it will work, but I do understand the frustration that comes when a club, in effect, commissions tradition). That said, we have to remember that no one can own ideas or experiences. 

Many years ago, a former Chancellor at Vanderbilt initiated what he called the Founder’s Walk (the first year students march through the campus the day before classes start while other students and faculty stand on the sidelines cheering and yelling). While it had never been done before (certainly not by the founder), the Chancellor referred to it as a “Vanderbilt tradition.” 

“How can you have a tradition that you just started this very year?,” I mused, finding the whole thing sorta ridiculous. Even when it came to universities, I was a die hard at the idea that “tradition” can’t be handed to someone. It must form, emerge, through organic action.

And, yet, as cynical as I was, it didn’t matter to the actual participants that year who gleefully, marched, mugged at the audience, cheered and hooted and did their own thing. Those on the sidelines seemed to enjoy it to. Invented or not, it felt and acted like a tradition.

As the years passed, it of course became a tradition, or was “traditionalized” just through performance. Regardless, it was already more “fun” and meaningful the first year than I would have expected, primarily because the students involved in the process made it their own. Their enthusiasm carried the damned thing; their experiences made it special. Was the “tradition” itself top down? Well, sorta, but the performance of it, the celebration of the thing… well, that is necessarily bottom up.

In the case of the Coyote, as Ivey points out, that was there from the beginning, part of the origin story of the club. While the club certainly embraced it with Tempo (whom I adore), its origins are elsewhere. If anything, Tempo was a nod to a tradition that had been developed and popularized organically by the fans.

But it doesn’t matter: nothing can be owned nor generic when we embrace it, when we demand that we get to have our own fun with it. I understand struggles for autonomy. I understand the desire for organic creativity. I actually think we have it in this case.

What we often forget, however, is the “meanings” always emerge from within. Create your rituals, borrow rituals, copy them; I don’t care, but make them yours. Whether it begins with the fans or is invented by someone else, what matters is our performance, our use of the goods.

As an aside: If we can just get the crown back to making the “Woooooo” noises in a coyote accent again, I’ll be the happiest one of all of us.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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