You may have noticed the recent headline about the University of Tennessee athletic department dropping the “Lady” portion of its Volunteers nickname from all sports, except basketball.
I vividly remember the first time I was introduced to the word lady and its association with a sports team – at my local high school. Frankly, I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I had questions. Lots of them.
Why was a girls team purposely making themselves out to be different than the boys (and as a result, giving them a lesser-than feel) by putting this unnecessary word on their jerseys?
Did the athletic director or the coach dream up this humiliating way of separating the girls from the “official” sports teams otherwise known as the boys? (That was the message it appeared to send to myself, and others.)
At the very least, why couldn’t they be identified as girls, instead of such a formal word like lady, which really has more of an adult connotation?
Why use a prim and proper term like lady anyway? That implies refinement and politeness, hardly qualities I’d want in a sports team. (Then, that made me wonder if, during games, these female athletes would really sweat, or rather glow?)
And, treating all things equally, why then, didn’t the boys team use the moniker “gentlemen” on theirs?
It was as if the girls team was intentionally signaling everyone in attendance with a madcap scarlet letter and caution label right on their jerseys: no, we’re not the real sports team, we’re just the ladies sports team. If you want to see the official sports teams, you’ll have to watch the main event, the boys.
I’m all for recognizing two different genders and giving each their due, but this deliberate separation by way of a simple term left the entire situation feeling so unnecessary, cruel, unfair and demeaning.
The Academy Awards doesn’t call it a Lady Oscar for the actress; it’s just an Oscar.
We don’t have teachers, and lady teachers.
There aren’t parents, and lady parents.
All male cats aren’t just cats, with the others being called female cats.
Sure, there’s still plenty of absurdity in our world. Seeing a female city council member categorized as a councilman looks as inane as it is literally inaccurate.
Yet even other parts of the sports world have been slow to embrace equality. Despite the effects of Title IX, sports has taken a long time to get with the program.
For example, why must the men’s NCAA basketball logo be branded “Final Four” while the women’s logo states, “Women’s Final Four”? Shouldn’t the former be called “Men’s Final Four,” making all things uniform?
And speaking of uniforms, isn’t that what sports clothing is supposed to do – make things alike, as in unified? If you let one team wear “Volunteers” on a jersey, and their counterpart wear “Lady Volunteers,” does that really send a message of togetherness and harmony among the entire Tennessee athletic department? And its women’s teams even have their own blue accent color to create a further divide. Talk about a silent, unspoken rebellion.
Then you have the NBA. Yes, the NBA came first, but why is the women’s league deemed the WNBA? Shouldn’t the men’s league be rebranded the MNBA, or at least give the women’s league a name with a less secondary feel to it, such as the Liberty Basketball Association, or American Basketball Association?
What about the PGA vs. the LPGA? Are not the women golfers of equal stature? The “L” makes it seem like the lesser league that it’s not. When Michelle Wie played on the PGA tour from 2004-2008, did it not seem like the media had promoted her to the main/real/top league? NASCAR doesn’t have a special WNASCAR for female drivers like Danica Patrick.
What surprised me the most about Tennessee’s announcement was how some former female athletes felt they were losing their identity with the loss of the word lady.
Those athletes might read this post and charge us with political correctness gone too far. But this has nothing to do with political correctness. The term “PC” describes the attitude of being careful not to offend any group of people in society believed to have a disadvantage.
One could accurately argue that women have disadvantages in a variety of ways, but using the nickname Lady Vols certainly doesn’t create any advantage; it belittles, demeans and unnecessarily separates.
I suspect the athletes, fans and those around Tennessee athletics had become desensitized to a term that was so commonplace and deeply rooted in sports culture at their university. The winning ways of the successful hoops team no doubt made it famous and celebrated.
The term had grown and became its own separate brand with no one ever stopping to question how silly it looked in the first place. Can’t see the forest for the trees, kind of comes to mind here.
It’s a bit like Jif’s “Choosy Moms Choose Jif” saying, or Kix’s “Kid-Tested, Mother-Approved.” Frankly, I’m surprised more dads aren’t up in arms over them. But both moms and dads have probably become deadened to the phrases. Those old-fashioned sayings have been around for decades and after all, many people enjoy the products anyway, so the slogans go unnoticed, and in the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it vein, most really don’t ask questions.
But questions are important.
As for my original questions, no one’s really ever been able to succinctly answer them. I doubt anyone associated with Tennessee can either, especially those who strangely want to continue with the Lady Vols nickname for basketball only.
But our country was founded on dignity and equality, and dadmarketing will keep searching for it in our corner of the world.
We hope the folks at Tennessee do in theirs, too.