I am ashamed of myself because it has taken me this long to state my feelings about the departure of the Lady Vol brand from all women’s sports except basketball. My feelings about the brand dismissal started with shock, which quickly moved through anger into grief and now my feelings sit solidly somewhere between disbelief and disappointment. I guess it has taken me so long to actually write this all down for two reasons. First, I was hoping that Nike and our Athletic Department would listen to the fans and alumni, both of which very firmly oppose this change. When this didn’t happen, I really thought something would change when big names like Cierra Burdick, Glory Johnson, Missy Kane Bemiller and Joetta Clark Diggs threw their support at keeping the name. When that didn’t seem to work, all I thought was “what could little old me, a track athlete from North Carolina who never did anything super exceptional as an athlete in college do if the words of the “important people” were falling on deaf ears”? While I was an exceptional student in college, I was only a decent athlete, which in my mind meant no one would know my name or care if my voice decided to join in the crowd of discontent. That thought gave me to a huge wakeup call, which leads me to my second reason. I haven’t been able to put my feelings down in words because I have been out in the world, doing what a Lady Vol is meant to do: work hard, strive for excellence, represent yourself and your university well and make something of yourself.Since I have been asked to write this all down several months ago, I received my Masters of Science in Kinesiology from Tennessee, I have started my own personal training business, started coaching track at a local high school, obtained an advanced strength and conditioning certification, and started working on my transitional teaching license so I can become a high school science teacher in the fall. I don’t say this to brag, but I say this because this was something that was always laid out in front of me as a Lady Vol and that kind of drive and excellence has always been demanded of me since I first stepped on campus and took on the responsibility of being a student-athlete. With that though in my mind, I decided it was time to write it all down, because I am a Lady Vol, I have an opinion and a voice, and quite frankly I absolutely do not approve of the direction this is new “branding scheme” is heading. When I started school in August of 2009, the men’s and women’s track programs had just combined under Coach JJ Clark, which opened up a whole new and interesting conundrum of how do you make the men’s and women’s teams blend when they have been their own entities for so long. I think everyone thought to start a merger with the clothes. While I was a track athlete, I wore just as much Power T gear as Lady Vol gear. I was 5’10 and 260 lbs, with shoulders, traps, and biceps from being a thrower and legs the size of tree trunks, which meant I quickly learned to not be picky about the gear I was given. If it fit and it was orange, I loved it. Men’s gear and Power T, or women’s gear and the Lady Vol symbol, it didn’t matter to me. All this meant was that I stepped into tradition as a Lady Vol, wearing both symbols proudly emblazoned on my chest. I never saw this as an issue and neither did anyone else on the team. If the “One Tennessee” motto was serious, it wouldn’t matter to anyone else either. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is true.
While I was an athlete, living the student-athlete life, it never occurred to me to distinguish myself as a “Lady Vol” verses being a “Volunteer”. I saw both symbols as equals before the two athletic departments officially merged. When the merger happened, I started to see some of my favorite strength staff leave, then athletic trainers. Then Pat Summitt became ill. Where was all the former Lady Vol staff? What happened? It was my final year of college when I finally realized that the Volunteers and Lady Vols were not equal, and that the Lady Vols were being eaten alive. The Lady Vols were being downsized, molded, and trimmed to become an acceptable part of the men’s athletic department that could be easily managed under One Tennessee.
This merger to being just the Vols has its benefits. The increased resources for all sports are very beneficial to everyone and being able to tap into football revenue for smaller sports (men’s and women’s) is a godsend. Maybe the merger will help us attract good coaching staff and top-class recruits. Or maybe not. This merger makes great business sense, simplifying things, a streamlined product, and all the bells, whistles, and big promises, but this merger is horrible people-sense. I wish that the athletic department could see that they are dealing with people, not just machine parts that drive the big money-making machine that is college athletics. People appreciate tradition and see the beauty in uniqueness. They support something that has meaning and purpose. The fans and alumni at Tennessee won’t see any of these qualities in a slick advertising campaign, a streamlined font, and a fancy new look. It truly is great to be a Tennessee Volunteer, but I do not believe it should be at the expense of the Lady Vol tradition. Our symbol is simple, but has a lot of impact. Yes, that means keeping the powder blue in the color scheme, and yes it’s one more logo, both of which you will still have to keep and maintain for women’s basketball. Why is it so difficult for all female to be represented in this way?
However, with that said, the Lady Vols will not die-out simply because someone took away our symbol and our name. It takes a lot more to kill an ideal then just eradicating a symbol. Lady Vols are all over the country, being the over-achievers and decision makers everywhere. We may be hiding in the woodwork or standing out in the limelight, but we are the ones who rise up and get things done, in every profession, every location. Whatever path we choose, from careers to coaching, from education to motherhood, we carry on a tradition started by Pat Summit and the whole women’s athletic department and continue to influence female athletes around the world with a tradition of excellence and perseverance. When I say to someone that I am a former Lady Vol, it actually means something out in the real world. Lady Vol conjures up an image in someone’s head, and that image is not a Power T or college football. The Lady Vol logo is a force unto itself, standing out in a world of college athletics, shouting out a message of diversity and dedication. Lady Vol may be just a name, but it welcomes girls from everywhere and teaches them to be women who stand for something because we as females, student-athletes, and Lady Vols are a force to be reckoned with. I’m not just speaking words when I say I’m a Lady Vol. I’m making a statement, and unfortunately as of July 1st, I will be one of the last women to make that statement. I sincerely hope for the next generation of Lady Vols, that the branding decision is reversed so that they can truly be a part of this sisterhood of women. Though the University of Tennessee may not recognize them as one, all of the future female athletes at Tennessee will be Lady Vols to me, and that’s what matters; keeping the tradition alive, even if the symbol dies.
With Love and Respect,
Lady Vol Track and Field 2009-2014