Why the Lady Volunteer Name Should Stay
Female athletes at the University of Tennessee are honored to be called Lady Volunteers and the decision for the removal of “Lady” should be overturned. The decision was made under the justification that the school needed to be re-branded for broad recognition, but the Lady Volunteers have created a historic brand of their own, which should be respected as an equal. Not only has the Lady Volunteer name been representing women’s athletics at the University of Tennessee for nearly 40 years, but during that time, Lady Volunteer teams have captured 11 national championships and 42 Southeastern Conference Championships (“History”). Female athletes at UT have cemented their legacy in collegiate sports under the Lady Volunteer brand and it has become a symbol of excellence.
The Lady Volunteer program creates a unique identity for their female athletes, which is rare in college athletic departments (Patrick). For over thirty years, the men’s and women’s athletic departments were independent from each other, capturing the idea that men’s and women’s athletics are separate but equal. This allowed the men’s department to solely focus on their respective athletics and the women’s department to prioritize women’s athletics. For some recruits, this made UT have tremendous appeal and it is unique from other programs. The division of the programs showed female prospects that their athletics are important enough to warrant their own department, but this came to an end in 2012 when the two departments merged to create one large department for both sexes. While the Lady Volunteer stayed intact, women’s athletics lost their independence. In 2014, the announcement of removing the title “Lady Volunteer” in women’s athletics, with the exception of the women’s basketball team, has created a riff in the Lady Volunteer community. Many women are concerned that their identity as female athletes will be diminished and UT women’s athletic program will mirror the programs of every other university in the nation. No longer will Tennessee women’s athletics stand out against other schools, but will resemble their uniformity and lose the appeal that many female prospects search for in university athletics.
The main force driving this change is re-branding of the University of Tennessee to become more marketable (“One Tennessee: Branding Restructure”). The University of Tennessee athletic director, Dave Hart, believes that the Lady Volunteer brand is hindering that process and that the school needs to be unified under the moniker “One Tennessee.” Although it is important to identify that both programs support each other, the removal of the Lady Volunteers is unnecessary and demeaning for all current and former female athletes at the university. The decision to remove the title clearly shows that the athletic director values the marketing of the school over the legacy of the Lady Volunteers, which shows that we have made little progress in the equality of female athletics.
Those in favor of the Lady Volunteer name being removed have called out that the title “Lady” is derogatory towards female athletes and they believe in this modern age we should move past sexist titles (Voepel). The problem with this argument is that the majority of Lady Volunteer athletes wear the label with pride and embrace the history of the name. Lady Volunteers do not feel like the name is condescending, but empowering. Over 5,000 signatures have been added to a petition against removing Lady Volunteers from UT athletics, clearly signifying that many do not agree with the decision (Weaner). Many former female athletes who have graduated from the university have voiced their concern about the change. A former swimmer at UT, Alex Barsanti said, “When the news actually broke yesterday and hearing it for the first time, I was just really disappointed and really frustrated.” The swimmer also said, “To think that it’s an experience that no other future athlete aside from basketball won’t get to have this experience, it’s heartbreaking” (Pape). This decision not only affects current female athletes, but also former and future athletes by taking away the legacy and the opportunity, respectively.
As a current female athlete at UT, I am very sad that I will no longer be called a Lady Volunteer, and I hope that the athletic department recognizes their mistake in the removal of the title and reinstates its use. The hard work and success of all female athletes at UT should be honored and represented with the Lady Volunteer logo. To remove the title after all the years of history that has been made under it is extremely disrespectful because Tennessee values tradition and the Lady Volunteers are a large part of that tradition.
Lady Vol Golf
*This letter was written as an essay for Anna’s English class. Her and her sister AJ are both current Lady Vol golfers.