For decades, the women's sports teams at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville have been known as the Lady Volunteers, or the "Lady Vols." That is, until now: the university announced last week that they'd phase out the "Lady Vols" name and refer to both men's and women's teams as just "Vols." But many Tennessee sports fans are furious about the move, arguing that the "lady" should stay.
Last week, Tennessee announced the move as part of what they called a "branding restructure." All the sports teams, men's and women's, will use a "Power T" logo, which the school said in a press release "was a result of a four-year branding study conducted by the University in conjunction with industry leaders in higher education branding." Just one women's team, the school's storied basketball team, is being allowed to keep the"Lady" part of their name, as a nod to legendary former coach Pat Summitt, who stepped down in 2012 due to early-onset dementia.
The move has kicked off a furious debate about whether using the "Lady" moniker for women's sports teams is antiquated, or whether, as Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins argued, changing the name is "defacing the women's sports tradition at Tennessee."
Jenkins argues there's nothing inherently wrong the word "Lady" (unlike, say, the word "redskin"). She writes:
First of all, the idea that "Lady" is an anachronism or even a slur is too thoughtless to let stand. It's a term of civility and respect, the natural counterpart to gentleman; it connotes someone who commands courtesy and extends it in return. Among other uses, it describes the partner of the leader of the country, the First Lady. In the case of the Tennessee Lady Vols, it's a self-selected term that represents a history of hard-won greatness, the seizure of athletic power and identity for women via Title IX, led by Summitt and an all-female athletic department in the 1970s.
But ESPN columnist Mechelle Voepel argues it's time for "lady" to go, writing that the moniker is a holdover from a time when lady "was still commonly attached as an adjective to women in occupations that had long been largely the province of men. Like lady lawyer, lady doctor, lady judge, lady plumber, lady cop, lady sportswriter, etc." That time is over, she writes, and it's time for sports teams to reflect that change: "Time marches on. Attitudes adjust. Many collegiate women's sports programs that once — formally or informally — called themselves the "Lady Whatevers" have stopped doing so. Much to my relief, frankly."
To date, nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition asking for the "Lady" to be reinstated. A former Lady Vols athlete started the petition, writing, "Being a Lady Volunteer is something that I will cherish forever. The Lady Vol T is more than a symbol. The T served as a fountain of inspiration during my tenure as a student-athlete. It is heart breaking to realize that no future athlete will have the opportunity to be apart of the Lady Vol tradition."
Image via AP