As an alumnus and former Tennessee athlete and coach I have been deeply concerned and discouraged by decisions that continue to minimize the contributions of female athletes at the University of Tennessee. As Trustees and concerned alumni, we have the best interest of our great university foremost and we must fulfill our fiduciary duty to the students, who have represented and will represent us in the future. I feel you as trustees, are the only group whose oversight and perspective can give guidance to reverse the damage to our reputation and future brand in women’s athletics.
I am forever grateful to the university and the administrators who spearheaded the support for women’s athletics in the early ‘70s. The experience was life altering for our generation. The support of Dr. Boling, Coach Woodruff, Coach Dickey, and the leadership of Dr. Lay, Coach Crawford, Coach Summitt and Joan Cronan made UT an early adopter of Title IX opportunities and a competitive national leader for women in sport. I never had the opportunity to play organized sports growing up in Nashville and UT gave me the opportunity to excel at a national level and go on to represent Tennessee in the Olympic Games. The expectation of excellence and discipline inspired me to spread the lessons I learned as a Lady Vol throughout my professional career. Looking back I think one of the most important aspects of the experience was strong professional women making decisions and charting a course for young women to follow and be inspired to excellence in all facets of life.
I have been disheartened to watch the loss of our leading women’s administrators to retirement and the dismantling/merger of the women’s athletics department. The empowering aspect of women making decisions and leading young women has been replaced by minimal representation in administrative positions and the voice and leadership of women’s athletics has been severely minimized. It pains me to criticize my university, but I am equally disturbed by the loss of voice for future women of this university. I realize that budgets and retirements may be factors beyond our control, but high aspirations and the history of the pursuit of excellence by women should not be minimized through generic rebranding.
The loss of the Lady Vol brand for all women’s sports is the latest step in minimizing the voice of women in Tennessee athletics, a step that is unnecessary and counterproductive. As a university, we should extol the areas where we excel nationally and lead our peer institutions. Just as we should promote our partnership programs with ORNL, successful faculty and alumni partnerships such as GARMIN and PILOT, we should continue to promote UT as a pioneer and leader in opportunities for women and a historical leader of women’s athletics. When you take away the brand you minimize the accomplishments of the past and the aspirations for the future. I have spoken to numerous donors, alumni, community members, former athletes, current athletes, coaches and administrators none of whom see any upside to this move and feel the same as I do. Those directly involved are either too well paid or afraid for their position to voice opposition to this unproductive destruction of one of our strongest national brands.
As a marketing professional for the past twenty years I believe the decision to use a generic nickname is a catastrophic mistake. The current trend in athletics is to remove the “Lady” moniker; every one else is doing it we should too! This administrative trend of ‘best practices’ is management not leadership. Leaders (and good marketers) set themselves apart as remarkable, with a different, higher standard. This is the very reason we chose that nickname. We as a university and a community should use the Lady Vol nickname and philosophy to spread the message of empowering women, not just on our sports teams, but throughout the university and our state. This is the legacy we should maximize, not continue to minimize. The women who mentored me as a Lady Vol taught me, that we should have a voice and an identity and commit to excellence. That ideal should be preserved and passed on to future generations of women, not ‘genericized’, like everyone else. Losing your brand is a major step in losing your identity, heritage and philosophy.
I was also taught by these great women to not offer a criticism without a proposed solution. My solution would be to restore the Lady Vol nickname for all women’s sports teams and share the Lady Vol Philosophy with all women on campus so that young women can all be inspired by the legacy of the great leaders I mentioned above. With regard to the logo, I would have it reflect the merging of the two great athletic traditions at Tennessee. Use the Power T for the men and women and still refer to the women as the “Lady Vols”, or combine the previous logos and use the Power T with the blue Lady Vol script imposed over the Power T for women, still keeping the Lady Vol nickname.
LINK PAST AND FUTURE GENERATIONS.
PRESERVE A LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS OF WOMEN LEADERS.
MAXIMIZE OUR NATIONAL REPUTATION FOR PROMOTING WOMEN LEADERS.
MOVE FORWARD TOGETHER.
In closing, I would like to again convey my Love and Appreciation for my university and the leaders who supported and inspired me. I believe it is critical that future generations of women can be so inspired.
With kindest regards,
Lady Vol Hall of Fame, SEC Coach of the Year, Tennessee Team Captain, 1984 Olympian, Walk on from Nashville
The above letter is an extended version of the guest column that was written by Missy in the 4/5/15 Knoxville News Sentinel Paper which can be found HERE.