I passed a hot Saturday afternoon watching the NCAA track and field championships on TV. The LSU Tigers won the women's team title and I was interested that the announcers didn't refer to them as “Lady Tigers,” as the LSU athletic department does.
The belittling practice of attaching gender adjectives to college teams is nearly universal in Arkansas, beginning with the Lady Razorbacks, or Lady ‘Backs, as the headline writers like to call them. To me, that was no Lady, but simply a Razorback, Dacia Barr, who sped to a gritty fourth-place in a fast 1,500-meter race run in a strong wind.
Turns out I'm not alone in my unhappiness. An academic paper has even been written about “The Sexist Naming of Collegiate Athletic Teams and Resistance to Change.” The article, by Stanley Eitzen and Maxine Zinn, is said to “show how these linguistic marking systems adopted by schools promote male supremacy and female subordination.” Of course. “Lady” shouts that these are just girlie sports, inferior to the real thing. If it was merely about identification, we'd also call the men's teams the Gentlemen Razorbacks. (No wisecracks, please.)
The magazine Athletic Business last summer reported that the tide has begun to turn. A couple of small colleges dropped the identifier before the 2007-08 school year and a college professor who's studied the subject told the magazine that, because of perceived sexism, the use of titles like “lady” had diminished nationwide.
The article also noted that Arkansas was a high-profile holdout and, at that time, carried this statement on ladybacks.com, “To emphasize its separate identity, the Arkansas women's athletics department continues to use ‘Lady' in its nickname. While some consider it progressive to drop ‘Lady,' Arkansas employs it as a marketing and identification tool.”
Since then, with the retirement of long-time athletic director Frank Broyles (a frequent critic of the federal law that required equal treatment of male and female athletics), the UA has merged the men's and women's athletic departments. So far, Razorback women are still Lady ‘Backs, but new athletic director Jeff Long has had bigger fish to fry. Perhaps he'll eventually retire the second-class identification tool.
Change is coming elsewhere in a state rich in sexism — Boll Weevils and Blossoms play at UA-Monticello; Wonder Boys and Golden Suns at Arkansas Tech; Lady Muleriders and Lady Reddies at Southern Arkansas and Henderson State. The worst of them all is the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears, but change is afoot in Conway. Coaches of the teams there have been putting the question to players' votes. So far, the soccer, softball and golf teams have decided to be known simply as Bears.
Big news may be in the offing, too, at Arkansas State, where Indians and Lady Indians once gave offense to both Native Americans and women. Next year, the ASU teams will become Red Wolves. A spokesman said it was not yet decided what to do about the women. There is a possibility, he said, that both men's and women's teams will simply be known as Red Wolves.
That should be an embarrassment to UA, which likes to think it's the leading university in Arkansas. (Actually, UALR set the curve on athletic gender equity years ago. Men and women alike have been simply Trojans for years.)
A related subject for later: Arkansas Baptist College's focus on football as a rebuilding tool and last week's gift of $2.5 million to the college for a men's dorm.