“Lady” athletes redux: a racial analogue

Adding to the previous post: Singling out certain university players as “Lady” athletes is akin to calling a really good professional soccer player who happens to be a person of color “the Black Beckham.” We would understand a black athlete’s frustration at working hard to achieve skill and notoriety in his own right, just to be seen as a secondary version of someone else. As noted, the terminology connotes that his role as a soccer player is merely derivative of somebody else’s, someone whose own more genuine or authentic performance provides a ‘model’ to which his own performance can merely aspire. If we can see this, we should be able to see the issue with Lady Raiders: A “lady” version of the real thing should strike us as as great a slight as a “black” version of the real thing.

Again, if the use of “lady” in college sports is just an innocent, benign way to distinguish between two teams (or even a compliment—as some suggest), it is incredibly odd that it never occurs to anyone to “benignly” distinguish or “compliment” male players in this way. Instead, we have a broad cultural practice that always qualifies the women by sex and no(!) examples of the reverse. What in the world could account for this strange disparity? Similarly, if “the Black Beckham” is told that the nickname equating him with this other good player is just innocent or a compliment, he would be smart to ask why not one person is calling Beckham the white version of him.

The reason, again, could only be that his identity as a player is considered derivative of Beckham’s, and not the other way around. The two players aren’t considered equivalent in value at all, and the fact that it never occurs to anybody to reverse the nickname proves this. Likewise, if “ladies’” and men’s teams were considered equivalent in value, we’d expect there to be roughly equal chances that men would be singled out by gender (the “Male” or “Gentleman Raiders” (as at MTSU)) with women as just the “Raiders,” as that the women would be singled out with the men not. But this isn’t the case at all. There is no 50/50 “wash.” So there must be something deeper at work than a random, innocent means of demarcating two things.

I admit that the above analogy is not perfect. Perhaps “the Black Beckham” is young and indeed looks up to Beckham as a kind of hero, a model to which he aspires. In this case the designation may be more appropriate. But of course, women’s teams don’t consider themselves idol-worshippers of their male counterparts, and it would be insulting to think of them as eager imitators. If this is what “Lady” in fact connotes, the problem is actually worse than I have been suggesting.

(Oh, yeah: Here is some of that bad press I mentioned on our “Lady” athletes panel discussion—a sneery Fox News blurb (scroll down) titled “Ya’ Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up”; also the MTSU student paper coverage, which sucks but inspired some hilarious comments below it. P.S. In the picture I look like a guy who lives in his grandmother’s basement and “never seemed like the type to do it.”)


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