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Women’s Nicknames Go Athletically Correct

March 21, 1996

Welcome to the women’s round of 16, a mini-convention for athletically correct nicknames.

Four teams in the regional semifinals _ Alabama, Auburn, Kansas and Vanderbilt _ have done away with `Lady’ in front of their team names. The reason is simple: A Jayhawk by any other name is not a Jayhawk.

``The men weren’t the Gentlemen Jayhawks, so we didn’t think the women should be the Lady Jayhawks,″ said Doug Vance, assistant athletic director at Kansas. ``Both teams should be the same.″

The trend seems to date back to 1987, when Becky Hopf was hired as the women’s athletic contact at Alabama. She thought it was unfair and even demeaning to call the women’s basketball team the Lady Tide, so she started calling it the Crimson Tide in all her news releases.

Since then, numerous teams have followed suit, including Vandy and Auburn. After a newspaper story detailed the changes a couple of years ago, Hopf actually got hate mail from fans.

``You could tell that there were these older men out there that couldn’t accept that,″ Hopf said Wednesday as she prepared for No. 10 Alabama’s trip to the NCAA West Regional semifinals in Seattle. ``They were very hostile letters, just because we had the name changed.″

Apparently, some fans were offended that a women’s team could share the same name as the sacred Crimson Tide football team.

``They just said that women’s sports are inferior to men’s sports,″ Hopf said. ``I thought it was kind of funny.″

Four teams in the round of 16 _ Iowa, Connecticut, Stanford and Virginia _ never used the `Lady’ prefix.

``Hell no, we don’t do that,″ said Sherilyn Fiveash, the women’s sports information director at Iowa. ``I’d get fired.″

The name-changing is in step with the gender equity movement, which requires women’s and men’s sports to be funded equally. But gender consciousness can cause episodes of linguistic absurdity at some schools.

At the University of Missouri at St. Louis, where the athletic nickname is the Rivermen, women’s teams are called the Riverwomen. Female athletes at Massachusetts are called _ that’s right _ Minutewomen.

The trend can also get athletic officials in a quagmire. As sports information director at Auburn in 1993, David Housel defended the Lady Tigers name, saying, ``Any way you say it, it’s still Auburn.″

Shortly after Housel became athletic director in 1994, Auburn changed its policy and dropped the `Lady’ designation. But Housel says his opinion hasn’t changed; just his title.

``As sports information director, I was justifying departmental policy,″ Housel said. ``Now, I’m making departmental policy.″

One team has actually gone against the trend. The Texas Tech women were called the Red Raiders until about 1990. Now they’re the Lady Raiders.

``It’s just something that flows off the tongue and we use it,″ assistant coach Roger Reding said. ``It tells our public which team we’re talking about. We don’t think of it as demeaning.″

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