Jackson played basketball this year for the first time. We’d played soccer in years past, but this was our first time at this sport. I have doubts about his NBA prospects.
We’re just now to the age that teams are being separated by gender. Up until this year, all kids who wanted to play got tossed in together. Now he only plays with and against other boys, which is kind of a shame, because at six, the girls are much better athletes.
The kids get to pick their own names in soccer. Parents try to help keep it simple: Orange Crush, Sharks or Rockets. In the fall, Jackson’s team was the Ninja Tigers. In basketball league he played, the names were assigned. He was a Mighty Jaguar.
Also in this league, each team was announced before they ran onto the court. Multiple games were played during each hour, so lots of teams were announced.
I was startled, as were quite a few other boys’ parents, at the beginning of season when we heard a girls’ team announced, “The Lady Tigers!” Wait, what?! We all sort of looked around mouthing to each other, “Lady?” Even the dads were slightly confused, “Is it really necessary to call them Lady anything? We know they’re girls.”
Some adult, when naming all teams, named the boys’ teams Jaguars, Sharks, Tigers, etc. He or she named the girls’ Lady Jaguars, Lady Sharks, Lady Tigers, etc. It really hit me all wrong.
Brace yourselves: I’m gonna have one of my rants, now.
There is no reason in 2013 to name any team the Lady (mascot) or even more insulting the (mascot)-ette, you know the diminutive form of the mascot.
I get how it happened historically. The boys’ teams existed first at schools. Then when a school decided or was forced to add a girls’ team, they just tacked Lady on the front. I suspect it was the times, nothing women were doing could possibly be construed to be as good as what men were doing, so it had to be a one-off.
Note: in the world of sports, that attitude hasn’t changed. One possible exception might be tennis.
So now changing things requires bucking history, legacy and generations of alumni. It’s not an easy thing to do. Even women my age who grew up being a Lady something or other are pretty offended by the idea that it’s not fabulous.
But here’s the problem with naming girls teams this way. By naming the boys’ team the Sharks and naming the girls’ team the Lady Sharks, the implication is that the boys are the real team and the girls are second class.
If you attach a gender to the beginning of anything, it implies it’s not the norm. If you call a man with an RN a “male nurse,” you’re implying nurses are supposed to be women. If you call them Lady Sharks, it implies that Sharks are supposed to male. Turn it around. When was the last time you heard of a Gentleman Sharks team? You haven’t because that would be stupid.
Making sure girls know there is a place for them in sports is wildly important. We know that girls who play sports in their youth are less likely to be in an abusive relationship or unintentionally pregnant. We know they are more likely to do well in school and go to college. We know that girls who play sports in their youth tend to develop healthy eating and exercise habits they carry with them through adulthood and teach their families.
This is not about everyone getting a medal or a false sense of accomplishment. This is about giving girls a space where they genuinely belong, not as a one-off or a second-class player, but where they are accepted and embraced and valued equally.
Here’s the most brilliant part: no one has to sacrifice a sacred cow to do it at this age. It’s a whole new league practically every year. There are new teams, players and coaches each season. So all they have to do is just start naming girls’ teams properly going forward. It’s actually easy.
Just by the way, I’m not the only one who feels this way. The University of Arkansas no longer segregates mascots by gender. The Razorbacks have a men’s and women’s basketball team. There are no more LadyBacks.