PLU marketing shies away from the legendary slogan: is EMAL an important legacy or exclusionary language?

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When the Pacific Lutheran University Department of Athletics tweeted a photo (pictured below) supporting the Bjug Harstad Day of Giving Oct. 10, the post garnered immediate response. The tweet included a photo of a football player wearing a paper Bjug Harstad beard and a PLU football practice jersey.

Photo from @GoLutes Twitter This picture of junior Mark Gallant, running back, featuring a visibly blurred spot where EMAL is written, was tweeted Oct. 10 to @GoLutes. It has one retweet and nine likes. Senior Parker Smith's response, "Why is EMAL blurred out?" has 37 retweets and 86 likes.
Photo from @GoLutes Twitter
This picture of junior Mark Gallant, running back, featuring a visibly blurred spot where EMAL is written, was tweeted Oct. 10 to @GoLutes. It has one retweet and nine likes. Senior Parker Smith’s response, “Why is EMAL blurred out?” has 37 retweets and 86 likes.

The jersey featured a large, blurry streak where the acronym EMAL was printed.

Senior Parker Smith commented first, asking, “Why is the EMAL blurred out?” His response earned 37 retweets and 86 likes and called attention to Athletics’ practice of excluding EMAL from official communications.

As a PLU football legacy, EMAL has been an essential aspect of the football team’s philosophy for decades. Recently, EMAL has come under fire: while EMAL is a longstanding tradition that promotes unity and selflessness, some argue that the acronym is exclusionary and outdated.


EMAL, an acronym for Every Man A Lute, persists as a dominant ideology in PLU football. It stresses the importance of unity and support within the team.

Former Head Coach Forrest “Frosty” Westering, who arrived in 1972, created the term. He utilized its philosophy for 30 years until his retirement in 2003.

During his career, Frosty presided as the ninth winningest coach in college football, and “no PLU team under Frosty’s guidance suffered a losing season,” according to Frosty’s biography on GoLutes.

In that time, EMAL worked to uplift PLU football as one of the best programs in the NCAA Division III and Frosty as one of the best coaches.

Many past students, faculty and fans cited EMAL as the reason for the team’s success.

In 1999, then-PLU student Ronald
Rasmus wrote his Master of Arts in Education thesis about EMAL.

emal1finalcmykThe application of EMAL, Rasmus noted, included a handbook given to each player at the start of the season that contained “voluminous handouts that pertain mainly to [EMAL’s] ‘Inner Game’ of psychological and spiritual training.” The handouts reflected Frosty’s commitment to building character through coaching.

When Amanda Feller, Associate Professor of Communication, began working at PLU about 17 years ago, campus culture embraced EMAL.

EMAL was part of popular PLU jargon at that time — she said the term was so heavily used at PLU that students picked up the term after only a few weeks on campus.

Feller said students, faculty and staff knew EMAL’s purpose fairly well. She said Frosty utilized EMAL to teach his players how to be stand-up men in their communities, which required community service on campus and beyond.

This commitment to service, Feller said, lent to an openness and generosity surrounding EMAL’s philosophy.

“It didn’t end up as a closed fraternity, like you could only belong if you knew the secret handshake,” she said.

Instead, EMAL represented a system focused on building good character, a system widely accepted and praised by the PLU community.

Scott Westering, the current head coach and Frosty’s son, described EMAL as a familial legacy.

“All I ever knew my dad to be was a college football coach,” he said.

“For us, the idea of Every Man a Lute means we’re all in. We’re buying into each other,” Scott Westering said. “We’re learning to believe and trust in each other — to develop belief in the system, the coaches, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Scott Westering described EMAL as a signifier of brotherhood for PLU football players. It ties together and bonds current and past members of the team, he said.

"The idea of Every Man a Lute means were all in. We are buying into each other." -Coach Scott Westering
“The idea of Every Man a Lute means were all in. We’re buying into each other.”
-Coach Scott Westering

“At the end of the day, EMAL is at the core of PLU football,” he said. “It’s what my father [established], and we have continued to use that as our focal point, our gathering point.”


EMAL has implications beyond its function as a code of ethics: some argue the phrase is inherently exclusionary.

Scott Westering contended that “man” holds no particular meaning in EMAL. The word functions as a casual identifier, much like the term “guys,” he said.

Professor of Communication Peter Ehrenhaus explained that when a male term like man or guys is used simply as a general descriptor, it employs masculinity as universal and renders femininity invisible.

“One could argue that the logic doesn’t explicitly exclude ‘Every Woman’ and that we’re all Lutes,” Ehrenhaus said. “But if that’s the case, then why even verbally assert that ‘Every Man’ is a Lute?”

Amy Young, Chair of Communication and Theatre, defined EMAL as a “spotlight term” that “continues to naturalize a hierarchy in athletics and in gender.”

Young spoke on the inequality between EMAL and its female counterpart, Lady Lutes. Lady Lutes, Young says, isn’t parallel to EMAL in its use of the word lady.

“They get to be men, and [female athletes] have to be ladies,” Young said.

President Thomas Krise said EMAL might not measure up to the university’s open-arms mission statement.

“Inclusivity is a big deal here,” Krise said. “It’s hard to carry out our mission statement if we are not deliberately trying to include everybody.”

Jen Childress-White, women’s basketball coach,  argued that stripping “societal labels” can open the door to inclusivity.

“It’s hard to carry out our mission statement if we are not deliberately trying to include everybody.” -President Thomas Krise
“It’s hard to carry out our mission statement if we are not deliberately trying to include everybody.”
-President Thomas Krise

“To me inclusive language is looking at a human being as a human being,” Childress-White said. “It’s treating people as people.”

In the interest of supporting inclusivity in athletics, Feller proposed retiring EMAL in exchange for a “modern slogan with new meaning for a new era.” The challenge in that regard, Feller said, is finding a way to honor the legacy of EMAL while modernizing according to a new time and culture.

“We should attempt to honor [EMAL] — not erase it from history — but have something new going forward,” she said. “It was very powerful for the time, but let’s develop a new tradition.”

As a possible alternative, Krise proposed EPAL — Every Player A Lute. He said the gender exclusive language was “outdated.”

“If you have something that’s exclusively masculine, then it seems very obviously designed or has the effect of excluding people,” Krise said.  “We’re trying to figure out how to be an inclusive society, so language is a big part on how people feel included or not.”


PLU community members respond to EMAL in a variety of ways, spanning from criticism to strong defense.

Sophomore cross-country runner Brad Hodkinson said he doesn’t see any explicit issues with EMAL. He said he recognizes EMAL as a football-specific tradition.

“It’s their own thing. I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else,” he said. “I don’t see why anyone would get that upset about it.”

"I dont see why anyone would get that upset about it." -Sophomore Brad Hodkinson
“I don’t see why anyone would get that upset about it.”
-Sophomore Brad Hodkinson

Former volleyball player Jennifer Henrichsen ‘07 said she remembers EMAL as a system that encouraged partnership and care.

“EMAL is a timeless philosophy that transcends notions of gender through its focus on teamwork and selflessness, and its connection to something bigger than oneself,” she said. “I didn’t think of EMAL as a particularly problematic or gendered concept when I attended PLU.”

When Troy Oppie ‘03 attended PLU, he worked with the student TV station to generate live coverage of football games.

“It represented the culture Frosty created, which as far as I’m concerned had zero to do with gender and everything to do with family and unity,” Oppie said. The slogan was “used to unite, not divide.”

“I’d hope they can understand its power as a unifier and not some exclusive label meant to solely lift up the male athletes,” Oppie said.

It is worthy of critical discussion, as long as the intent of the slogan was kept in mind, he said.

Junior Tegan Mitchell, President of PLU’s Feminist Student Union, feels EMAL acts as an exclusionary term. Even if exclusion is not EMAL’s intent, Mitchell says the slogan doesn’t work on a campus with an inclusive mission.

“[EMAL] perhaps can make anyone who doesn’t identify as male feel less of a sense of belonging, which we all know is really important in a college environment,” Mitchell said. “It needs to be a place that supports all people.”



On a departmental scale, Athletics officially limits its branding to the terms PLU, Pacific Lutheran University and Lutes. Laurie Turner, Director of Athletics and Recreation, said the Athletics department aims to be consistent with its branding. Therefore, athletes should be branded using PLU and Lutes.

“I’m firm on not letting the football program — or any program — to self-identify different than what our brand is,” Turner said.

Official communication from Athletics thus excludes EMAL and Lady Lutes. This includes cropping and editing photos of players, as exhibited in the department’s Bjug Day tweet.

The exclusion of EMAL from official Athletics communications is nothing new, said Director of Athletic Communications Mark Albanese. The Athletics department, to Albanese’s knowledge, never used EMAL or Lady Lutes in official communications on social media or PLU’s website.

Albanese stressed this practice as marketing strategy, not an attack on EMAL or slogans like it.

"Perhaps [EMAL] is not unifying in the same way anymore." -Athletics Director Laurie Turner
“Perhaps [EMAL] is not unifying in the same way anymore.”
-Athletics Director Laurie Turner

“We’re not trying to eliminate EMAL. That has never been the intent,” he said. “We just need to be very sensitive about the language we use, especially when trying to sell this as a great institution that is open and accepting to people.”

Turner, on the other hand, recognized the issues that EMAL poses in terms of language and gender beyond marketing reasons.

“My philosophy is, if it’s good for you, then it needs to be good for [everyone],” Turner said. “We need to have policies and procedures in place that serve everyone.”

“Perhaps [EMAL] is not unifying in the same way anymore. [Inclusivity] is an ongoing education and challenge,” she said.


Scott Westering suggested the team’s perception when viewing the manipulated photo on Twitter was just “one of our football guys in his practice jersey” with the “legacy building block” of EMAL completely obscured.

He said he met with his team and discussed why the athletic department excludes EMAL in their marketing, such as the Bjug Day tweet.

“Having that meeting and talking it through was letting them know: ‘It is what it is, and now we have a choice,’” he said. “Now we can move forward because we’ve become educated about the situation.”

Achieving equity could require questioning tradition, said Joanna Royce-Davis, Vice President of Student Life.

“When someone who is female-identified chooses to participate in football — such as last year — then [EMAL] is not inclusive of that person,” Royce-Davis said, in reference to Annika Smith-Ortiz, who was PLU’s first female footballer in Fall 2015. “The reality is, language does matter. [It] requires intentional attention.”

“I think we can recognize EMAL as a source of affinity while simultaneously challenging how well it serves the whole,” Royce-Davis said. “It’s a challenge to figure out how we stay connected and honor a history, [while] recognizing that it might not resonate the same way as sports changes.” 


Reporting was led by Brooke Thames. Additional interviews were conducted by  Rhiannon Berg and Courtney Miranda. Matthew Salzano, Paris Franklin, Christian Bond, Morgan Stark, Breanna Wiersma and Hannah Soltis were also significant contributors.  🅼

6 thoughts on “PLU marketing shies away from the legendary slogan: is EMAL an important legacy or exclusionary language?

  • November 7, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Don’t give in to Political Correctness. Stand strong on your faith and in Jesus Christ our king. EMAL was created on the foundation of building up young men into strong men going out into the world. To stand strong in faith, hope and love to his EMAL brother and to all students at PLU. Look at the history of EMAL Football and all of the good works that have come out of it. If PLU President Thomas Krise cannot see the good. Then I would strongly suggest him to step down at Pacific LUTHERAN University. A University built on the foundation of Christianity and Jesus Christ.

    Matthew 12:35
    A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

    • November 8, 2016 at 2:00 am

      By your logic, the founding of PLU and the Lutheran sect of Christianity is based on the development of masculinity and is intended to stay that way. Wrong. In so many ways. The reality is that language matters. Language informs our beliefs, our ethics, and our way of life. It is the way we treat one another. It is the way we teach our children. It is the way we teach ourselves. Failure to recognize the power of language poses incredible danger. You may think that PLU isn’t “Lutheran” enough, but how can it not be? PLU exemplifies core values of inclusiveness, and cultivates the exchange of ideas, the pursuit of greater knowledge, and the growth of the human condition. I praise this institution for recognizing the power of language and having the humility to seek a more suitable option that aligns with its values.

      It is opportunistic to claim “political correctness” (a term I don’t have the time to deconstruct at the moment) to an issue that quite literally exemplifies PLU’s nature of inclusivity. PLU welcomes everyone to the table, not just those that received an invitation.

    • November 8, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      The reality is that while language is often piece of the puzzle, there are many other factors at play including tradition, works, relationship to the community, etc. that this debate seems to lack. Your point that seems to stress that language is our be-all, end-all, would therefore lead to you the conclusion you inevitably drew that the use of of the word “man” in this situation is ‘dangerous'(!) and and must be changed.

      Of course, you then mention to the core values of inclusiveness, while attempting the erase the feeling of belonging that countless players, coaches, wives, daughters, sons, grandparents, faculty, fellow students, trainers, managers, and others have felt for nearly half a century – a curious way to prove one’s point. This is followed by the account that PLU strives to cultivate the exchange of ideas while you are simultaneously trying to stifle an idea that has been closely tied to the university more than possibly any other in many students and alum’s eyes. Do I need to remind this commenter that this all began by the blurring out of a student’s jersey on a social media account – the pinnacle of free thought and discussion!

      The actions of the university by their very definition ‘exclude’ and show nothing in line with what the school is supposed to stand for.

      This episode, coupled with the previous KPLU debacle and the direction of the university as a whole shows a lack of forward-thinking, compassion, and courage from President Krise.

      PLU is becoming an unserious place run by unserious people.

    • December 19, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      As a female “Lute” I never felt excluded hearing the chant or reading the phrase on signs. EMAL transcended gender. It unified us all. Don’t trry to fix something that isn’t broken!!

  • November 8, 2016 at 9:27 am

    AD Turner’s hard line stance is unfortunate…as was the blurring (rather than a subtle crop at the top of the letters). At least President Krise offers a suggestion…

    I’ll be the first to admit that EMAL is a bit dated on it’s surface (especially without the context). But it would be a shame to throw out the embodiment so many wonderful ideals over a term that Frosty coined in the 1970’s for his football team. Even with that history, I specifically recall him discussing ‘EMAL’ with inclusive rather than exclusive language. It could have been something like ‘Everyone a Lute’ or ‘Everybody Buys In’ all along. Plenty of valid points are made in this well-written article. But the overall controversy just seems overdone somehow. I’m more concerned about SWesty and the AD’s relationship.

  • December 13, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I’m certain there are quite literally hundreds of collegiate institutions that would do almost anything to have in their hands a term and phrase that represents so many incredible values that span decades of success at PLU and across the world. Very few students or alumni know what the heck a Lute really is. It’s almost a meaningless “mascot”-type term. Which is quite likely why EMAL came about…it brought definition and meaning to a school with a religious acronym as a ‘mascot’.

    Honestly, I’ve been in business for almost 30 years and would Strongly suggest PLU look at this completely differently. Rather than trying to “bland” and make everyone feel “cozy” (which you can never do), fully embrace EMAL and Lady Lutes and, most importantly, the values they represent. We are all stuck with the English language for the most part. Until we refer only to “Humankind” and not “Mankind”… I think we simply deal with the reality that everyone feels a little “left out” every day no matter what PLU Marketing does. There is no magic phrasing or lack of that makes PLU more “Inclusionary”.

    PLU is a business. It’s here to make money and it’s product is high quality education. I suggest you look at Frosty’s 80/20 role and see if that applies here. You’ll never get 100% buy-in on any term…that’s naive.

    Again, I suggest we embrace this almost magical, inspirational and internationally renowned reputation that took decades of intense thought, inspiration, commitment on literally thousands of men and their families.

    Also consider that football is likely the most INCLUSIVE sport in all sports. Rarely is a high school football participant ever turned away. Collegiate teams often have well over 75 members. It is by far the most popular sport in America. As a business, you must leverage your assets. Football and the EMAL tradition is CLEARLY one of PLU’s best marketing assets.

    Again, I suggest everyone take a really strong look at the materials that are at the core of EMAL. I would wager that there’s quite literally no single person that would not find affinity with and likely inspiration from some portion of the EMAL playbook. The EMAL tradition itself is and has always been about servant-hood and INclusion.

    Belief almost always comes before success. PLU Football hasn’t been successful for any other reason. The core of EMAL is belief in yourself and respect for others. Again, I cannot imagine a college that wouldn’t want this great foundation of historical success in their personal marketing playbook.


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