- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2001

Editor's Note: Steve Chapman is on vacation. The following column was originally published in March 1999.

Thanks to changes in popular attitudes and the law, American females now have all sorts of athletic opportunities that used to be reserved for the testosterone-laden half of the population. They can play Little League baseball, win Olympic medals in ice hockey, run the Boston Marathon, and get their noggins thumped in professional boxing matches.

At the college level, the number of women participating in varsity sports has risen from 300,000 to 3 million since 1972. Girls nowadays are free to do almost everything boys do except use the boys' locker room.

They also get to do one thing boys don't get to do. They alone can aspire to attend the University of Tennessee and become Lady Volunteers. Or Ohio State and be known as Lady Buckeyes. Or the University of Mississippi and wear the proud name of Lady Rebels. Apparently, many university administrators worry that if you put a bunch of people out on the basketball court or soccer field without identifying them by sex, spectators will automatically assume they are males.

It is, of course, a fact of life that one of the risks of taking part in intercollegiate athletics is being saddled with team names chosen by sadists or mental incompetents. Ask the men or women who compete as the Tufts Jumbos, the University of California at Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, the Eastern New Mexico Zias, the Juniata Open, the Texas Christian Horned Frogs or the Whittier Poets.

Imagine what life must be like thinking of yourself as an Ole (from St. Olaf's College), a Stormy Petrel (Oglethorpe), a Fighting Camel (Campbell), a Thunderduck (Richland), a Wave (Pepperdine), a Penman (New Hampshire College) or a Troll (Trinity Christian). You'd think it would sap your fighting spirit.

But as is often the case in this world, females bear an extra burden. At a lot of schools, they have to wear signs around their necks notifying spectators that they possess uteruses. The most common form this tradition takes is to add “lady” to the customary team names — the Lady Vikings, Lady Bulldogs, Lady Mountaineers, Lady Knights, Lady Terriers, Lady Bison, Lady Bearcats, Lady Falcons, Lady Eagles and Lady Panthers.

Other institutions simply change the team names to reflect the gender of the participants, with results guaranteed to induce cringes. At Florida A&M;, Rattlers become Rattlerettes. Prairie View A&M; calls its women the Pantherettes. Only rarely does the altered form work — as at Oklahoma State, where female teams are called Cowgirls instead of Cowboys.

The practice of flagging the sex of the players might have made sense in the days when female athletes were considered unusual. Nowadays, though, it just seems silly. If you don't think so, try to imagine an announcer introducing the “Man Vikings” or the “Gentleman Eagles.”

The feminine version amounts to attaching an asterisk to indicate that these are not the “real” Bulldogs or Knights or Mountaineers. That's particularly incongruous at the University of Tennessee, where the women have won three straight national championships in basketball — three more than the men's team has ever won.

But an appellation that ordinarily sounds merely unnecessary is often applied in a way that would make Monty Python proud. So we get such howling self-contradictions as the Lady Stags (Fairfield), the Lady Gamecocks (South Carolina), the Lady Dutchmen (Lebanon Valley) and the Lady Monks (Saint Joseph's). Equally harebrained are teams called the Lady Lions and Lady Tigers, which are numerous. It may come as news to the scholars who run these schools that the English language has a name for a female tiger, and it's not “lady.”

But clear thinking is a rarity in this realm. You may argue that male gender is implied in such terms as Vikings or Knights, but it's hard to understand why we need to assign gender where none is suggested — as in the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg's Lady Rifles or Oakland City College's Lady Oaks or Presbyterian College's — I kid you not — Lady Blue Hose.

One of the few instances of impeccable logic is also one of the worst names: Kenyon College women take the field simply as the Ladies — which is reasonable only because the men are called the Lords. Logic may not be an adequate defense for calling Oberlin's female athletes Yeowomen — pronounced, “Yo! Women!”

So it's time for men to press for change — partly in the spirit of fairness and partly out of pure self-interest. As it happens, women now constitute a lopsided majority of American college students, and there may come a day when female student-athletes outnumber their male counterparts. In that case, turnabout may be seen as fair play. If we don't act now, an unfortunate boy you know could someday take the field as a Male Tigress.


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