Athletes support tradition of fight song

S-Utah-Man Colby Patterson
The Utes sing “Utah Man” to the MUSS after defeating Colorado last season at Rice Eccles. Photo by Conor Barry.

The Utes sing “Utah Man” to the MUSS after defeating Colorado last season at Rice Eccles. Photo by Conor Barry.

Of the roughly 30,000 students who attend the U, about 400 of them have a different connection to the “Utah Man” fight song than the rest.

That small group is the athletes themselves, for whom the song is sung nearly every time a Ute team competes at home. Most of these athletes understand the complex nature behind the question of whether some of the lyrics should be changed to be more inclusive, but even so, the general consensus among them is that the song should remain as is.

“It’s something special, especially to the athletes,” said senior gymnast Lia Del Priore. “It’s something we sing on a regular basis. Personally, I’m not offended by it. I know that there are some people that really are. I look at it more as something that the university has adopted. It’s part of who we are, and therefore it’s a part of who I am. I feel like it’s more about the athletes and the people that are being represented by the song, not the people that are just singing it when they show up to a football game every now and then.”

Del Priore’s sentiment that she’s not offended by some of the gender-biased lyrics in “Utah Man” that sparked the debate is shared by many female athletes.

“I would say that I have a very feminist standpoint in a lot of things, but I know that I’m a strong woman and I don’t need it to include women per se in the fight song for me to feel included,” said swimmer Amanda Barrett, who added that her team sings “Utah Man” after every meet. “I have a strong sense of self, and I don’t think including the word ‘woman’ … somehow in the song will change that.”

The U is certainly not alone when it comes to its fight song containing gender-exclusive terms. Among the other 11 Pac-12 schools alone, five have references to “men,” “boys” or “sons” in their songs. None have references to women competing, though two call their universities a “her.”

Part of the concern athletes have with changing the song to be more gender-inclusive is the notion that the meaning of the song could get altered in the process. More specifically, there is worry that changing any references of “Utah Man” to something such as “Utah Fan” would diminish the athletes’ place in the lyrics.

“The ‘Utah Fan’ thing, changing ‘man’ to ‘fan,’ I think is not cool at all because anyone can be a fan, and that’s different than being a Utah person — a ‘Utah Man,’ — because that is someone that’s been to the university, is part of the university, it’s part of who they are,” Del Priore said. “A fan can be swayed with how the program’s doing or they may not even live in Utah or have gone to the U. So the whole ‘Utah Fan’ thing, I don’t think that should be in our song.”

While many Ute athletes are strongly opposed to “Utah Man” being altered, a good number of their coaches feel differently. Citing the notion that society as a whole has become more inclusive of women since the song was written in 1904, these team leaders feel the U should follow suit.

“I became a Ute in 1980, so I’ve been bleeding red and loving everything about the Utes for all those years. But at the same time, I do think that, knowing our fight song and knowing all the lyrics, I do think there are some terms that are a little bit sexist, and I don’t think it’d be all bad to get a little up-to-date,” said Red Rocks co-head coach Megan Marsden. “In saying that, I hope they don’t totally revamp because I’m a traditionalist, and it would be hard to hear the melody change. But if they can … make some adjustments that would make it a little more politically correct for … women, I think that would be a good idea.”

As an effective publicizer of women’s gymnastics, Marsden’s husband Greg, her co-head coach, feels the decision of whether or not to change the song should come down to what will allow the U to be best thought of by those outside of the community.

“I have the same feelings about Utes as our name and the drum and feather as our emblem as I do about ‘Utah Man’ as our song,” he said. “I don’t have real strong feelings one way or the other, but personally, I’m not someone who dwells in the past too much either personally or professionally. I think it’s about who we are now and who we want to be and how we want to be perceived moving forward.”

One coach who feels differently than the Marsdens is the football team’s head man, Kyle Whittingham, whose squad sings ‘Utah Man’ in the locker room after every game.

“I love the ‘Utah Man’ song,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t change. I don’t know what it would be. ‘I am a Utah person’? I don’t know what the issue is, but there has got to be better ways to spend your time than worrying about the fight song. I think it is good as is, and I hope it stays.”

Whether the song gets officially changed or not, Barrett said she doesn’t think it will alter the words her team sings after meets.

“I don’t know if our team would actually sing it any differently,” she said. “It’s mainly the student-athletes that do sing the fight song and know all the words to the fight song. I’m sure a lot of the student body knows the main chorus of it, but for the most part, it’s the student-athletes that are singing it, and I don’t really see us singing it differently if they change the fight song because it has such a long tradition.”

r.mcdonald@chronicle.utah.edu