Thursday, April 05, 2007

Brennan redeems herself

Christine Brennan takes on a not-too-popular issue in her USA Today column: naming practices for women's teams. And Brennan comes down on the right side of this argument somewhat making up--in my mind at least--for her closing remarks at the Billie Jean King luncheon last week.
As I mentioned the other day, I rooted for Rutgers for a myriad of reasons, one of which was that Tennessee persists in calling itself the Lady Vols. Brennan's article actually points out that when coach C. Vivian Stringer took over at Rutgers she took the "lady" away from the Scarlet Knights. She told Brennan:
"...with all due respect, I just believe that basketball is basketball and you don't need to make a distinction. ... I think that it's time to just drop the 'lady' thing. Let's play basketball."
My level of respect is significantly less than Stringer's. I think it's just wrong. I think teams that persist in this "tradition" are a little self-hating and lack the courage to stand up and say it is time for women's athletics to be treated equally. Brennan highlights more reasons why the practice is degrading.
But I also got to see a good presentation at the conference last week on naming practices in the south done by a University of Memphis sociology professor. Stringer herself noted that this seems to be a southern thing and the research corroborates this--though, of course, we can all think of notable exceptions: the Lady Lions for instance or the Minutewomen of University of Massachusetts. (What is a minutewoman anyway?)
The UM professor looked at a variety of factors and found that teams with Lady in the title or some other form of gender distinction can also have other issues such as a negative climate in the athletic department or fewer opportunities for female student-athletes.
But, as Tennessee coach Pat Summitt told Brennan, the names are probably not going away anytime soon. She herself, and she believes her athletes as well, like the adjective Lady, and of course there is the renown of the "brand" Lady Vols. To her credit, Brennan chides Summitt's statements noting the huge impact that someone with her status could have on ending the practice.

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