On Thursday, the Ohio State Buckeyes’ women’s basketball team will welcome the Penn State Nittany Lions to the Schottenstein Center. If Ohio State can continue their winning ways (11-2 since the start of 2022), they will be remain in the conversation for the Big Ten title in the regular season’s final week.
On the court, the Buckeyes are a team with strong chemistry and a pair of outstanding guards in Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell who’ve each received post season award hype, in addition to regularly adding in-season honors to their trophy cases.
For all the positives of Thursday’s game, there’s one thing that sours it, at least for me. It’s the visiting team’s nickname for their women hoopsters, the “Lady Lions.”
Now, in an effort towards full disclosure and to make sure that people realize that this isn’t coming from a place of animosity towards the Nittany Lions, I actually graduated from Penn State, and loved my experience in State College. Let’s just say I own a good amount of blue and white gear, despite the team that I now cover.
So, this isn’t an opinion piece laced with trash talk or anger towards the Nittany Lions, nor is it based off an overwhelming affection for the Buckeyes. I write about the Ohio State basketball team because I live in Central Ohio and I love of the sport.
With that out of the way, the “Lady Lions” moniker is awful. My disdain for the name isn’t even really something that impacts me directly at all; after all, I’m a 30-something male.
“Lady Lions” is a dinosaur-aged gender tag that should follow the lead of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and head into its extinct phase. I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word “Lady” ham-handedly attached to the name of a sports team, I think of the the baseball teams in “A League of Their Own.”
And for the uninitiated, the 1992 movie takes place during World War II. It’s a dramatization of the Women’s Baseball Association, a real league that was born out of the absence of Major League Baseball players who were taking up arms overseas.
In the movie, women baseball players from farms and cities across the country converge on Chicago’s Wrigley Field for a tryout to earn a spot in the league. Once players make the cut, and before they head to their new team’s cities, they’re told that “Every girl in this league is going to be a lady.”
After a few scared looks, it cuts to all the players in charm and beauty school. In it, they learn plate and utensil placement, how to walk and how to sit. All items that have no usefulness on the field whatsoever, and things that their MLB counterparts were never expected to know. It’s simply done in order to make the idea of women playing sports more palatable to a society that wasn’t used to seeing women as athletes.
Even when the play, their uniforms include skirts, which obviously does not work super well in a sport that requires sliding, as evidenced by the bloody shins seen in the movie. “A League of Their Own” took place in the 1940s, but unfortunately some things haven’t changed nearly enough.
When someone tells a person to act more lady-like (and usually the person saying it looks a lot like me), it means that they aren’t being quiet or submissive enough for that person’s liking. These are two characteristics that aren’t normally things we want in basketball players, or any athletes for that matter.
Now, Penn State isn’t the only school that uses the “Lady” qualifier. The Tennessee Volunteers are known as the “Lady Vols,” and you’ll see the phrase used unofficially to describe many teams, even the Buckeyes.
A word like “Lady” added onto a team’s nickname is just another example of how women’s sports are considered the “other,” while men’s teams and leagues are considered the standard or default.
Don’t take it from me though, here’s what the 2021 WNBA MVP has to say on the subject.
It’s all a popularity contest and politics in wbb. In mbb you just gottah be the best. In wbb you gottah be the best player, best looking, most marketable, most IG followers, just to sit at the endorsement table. Thank God for overseas because my bag would’ve been fumbled.— Jonquel Jones (@jus242) February 18, 2022
The gap between women and men’s sports is slowly getting smaller, but it’s not moving nearly as fast as it should be, despite Tuesday’s historic agreement for the USWNT. It took until 2022 for the NCAA Basketball Tournament to distinguish between “Men’s” and “Women’s,” rather than just assuming that “Final Four” should always refer to the men’s tournament, unless otherwise indicated.
And what’s even worse is that this overdue move came not out of a recognition of their longstanding mistake, but rather from the outcry over the disparity between the men’s and women’s tournaments during last year’s the pandemic-ridden postseason.
If you’ve gotten this far and are thinking, “It’s just another name for women, it’s fine.”
Do the same thing for the men. Change the front of Penn State’s men’s jerseys to say “Gentlemen Lions.” Call Tennessee’s team the “Gentlemen Vols” or call Ohio State the “Gentlemen Bucks.”
It sounds ridiculous, but for some reason it’s widely accepted in women’s sports, especially basketball. But you want to know the good news? It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a quick, painless, and easy way to fix it: Just stop.
Quit calling your school’s women’s team the “Lady <insert name here>.” For example, if you’re a Nittany Lion fan, call them the “Nittany Lions.” If you’re a Buckeye fan, call Sheldon, Mikesell and the other talented athletes the “Buckeyes,” because that’s their name. That’s the school where they’ve chosen to play.
Judge them on their merits on the court, not on an archaic naming convention. In fact, if you need to talk specifically about one of your favorite school’s basketball teams, throw a “women’s” or “men’s” in front to differentiate, but do it for both, because otherwise it is only slightly less patronizing than the “Lady” moniker. Heck, even the NCAA is finally doing this, and you it’s never a good look to be behind the NCAA when it comes to doing the right thing.
Thursday’s OSU vs. PSU game has the potential to be an exciting matchup. The Nittany Lions will look for their third win in as many games, while the Buckeyes will look to keep their conference title chances alive.