Recent debates at two universities about removing "Lady" from the names of women's sports teams caused very different reactions, highlighting the two sides of an ongoing discussion about women's athletics.
The Review, the student newspaper of the University of Delaware, announced on Sunday that it will no longer use the term "Lady Hens" when writing about the university's women's sports teams. The newspaper's decision comes just as University of Tennessee fans and players are fighting to keep the term "Lady" attached to the name of their female squads, which are currently known as the Lady Vols.
"Though this change is long overdue, we are proud to announce we are disposing of a discriminatory term," the editors of the Review wrote of their decision.
The newspaper's move was prompted by a letter to the editor from alum James Wiles, who said that "the term Lady Hens is inherently sexist."
"The men’s teams are somehow solely entitled to the general term Hens, without a gender specific qualifier," Wiles wrote.
The Review editors agreed with Wiles, adding that "referring to our women’s sports teams as the Lady Hens while we refer to our men’s teams as the Hens suggests that men’s teams lay claim to true Henship and to the true embodiment of athleticism."
Elizabeth Quartararo, the editor-in-chief of The Review, touted the decision in a tweet on Monday:
— Elizabeth Quartararo (@ElizQuart) November 17, 2014
But at the University of Tennessee, many people feel differently.
Tennessee women's teams have gone by the name "Lady Vols," short for Volunteers, since the 1970s. Last Monday, the school announced that "all sports other than women's basketball will compete under the name, 'Tennessee Volunteers,'" starting on July 1, 2015. This change is part of a campus branding transition as the school's athletic program switches its marketing manager and apparel provider from Adidas to Nike. Based on the results of a branding audit run by Nike, the decision was made to rename the majority of the women's sports teams.
The women's basketball team, however, will remain "Lady Vols" as an homage to Coach Pat Summitt. Summitt coached the basketball team for nearly forty years before retiring in 2012 for health reasons, and holds the record for the most all-time wins in NCAA basketball history for a coach of either a men's or women's team. In deference to her role in building the program, the women's basketball team will keep its original name.
The rebranding of the Lady Vols is facing backlash, notably from former players who argue the name is part of their tradition and identity. Defenders of "Lady Vols" argue that the term is empowering, not demeaning.
"In the land of Lady Vols ... being a lady means something so much fiercer than anything that our society deems as the definition of a 'lady.' The whole connotation's changed," said Cameron Broome, a former University of Tennessee soccer player, in an interview on a local TV station WBIR.
In 2012, the women's and men's athletic departments at the University of Tennessee merged, leaving women without an athletic department specifically devoted to them. Female athletes at Tennessee see the name change as a further loss of their individual character.
"We had our own identity," Natalie Brock, a former Lady Vols softball player, told USA Today. "I understand that things have to change, but it's just unfortunate because there's a lot of history and pride that goes with that."
In a poll conducted on ESPN's website, 77 percent of respondents said that Tennessee should not have removed the word "lady."
Many women's teams still use the "lady" moniker, though schools are slowly moving away from it. A "lady"-like name was dropped from female athletic teams at Washburn University last year.
But regardless of arguments for or against the use of the word "lady," fans of Delaware sports and grammar alike can rest easy about the Review's decision to drop the term.
"This change will also reduce redundancy as hens, technically speaking, are female," the editors wrote.