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There are no ladies here

There are no ladies here

Sharon Barrett is the best professor I studied under at the University of Montana School of Journalism.

Even though I have not seen or spoken to her in more than 20 years, I am reminded of her lessons in reporting and writing with every story that I write.

In 1981, Barrett became the first female faculty member in the J-School’s then 67-year history. She turned out quality journalists until she retired in 2007.

My favorite class with Barrett was called “Specialized Writing.” In that class, she stressed the major difference between using the right word and using almost the right word, and that stuck with me.

I actually got my first lesson on that a couple years earlier. In the fall of 1994, my first semester at UM, I was introduced to Barrett in Editing I class.

Each week, you had to pass a quiz on current events to prove to the professor that you were serious about being a journalist. One week I saw the following question, and I knew the answer because I read the Missoulian every morning and watched the CBS Evening News every night.

“Who is Susan Smith?”

Amazingly, I got the answer correct and oh so wrong at the same time when I wrote, “The lady who drown her two sons in her car.”

I laughed and absorbed one of the best lessons in all my years in school when I got the quiz back and saw Barrett’s reaction to my answer.

In red pen, she wrote one word: “Lady?”

That was not even close to the right word.

A couple of years later, the University of Montana volleyball team drafted a letter to the local media. The players, including 2017 Butte Sports Hall of Fame member Jamie (Wolstein) Toivonen, asked the media to stop referring to the team as the “Lady Griz” in stories.

They were the Grizzlies, or the Griz, just like the men’s teams.

It wasn’t because the women on the team were radical feminists. They probably had no problem with man-to-man defense or calling the person delivering bills the “mailman.”

This was not about political correctness. It was about not wanting to be demeaned while they played their sport at a very high level.

Putting the world “lady” in front of the mascot for the women’s and girls’ teams is just that. It’s demeaning. It comes straight from the times when female athletes were first trying to be taken seriously.

They had to deal with silly stereotypes, and the word “Lady” was used to distinguish them from the “real” teams made up of men.

So, calling putting “Lady” in front of the mascot is nothing more than a condescending pat on the head. Even when writers, reporters and broadcasters mean no disrespect, that is exactly what they are doing.

They are basically saying, “How cute, the girls want to play, too.”

We never refer to the men’s teams as the Gentlemen Griz or the Gentlemen Bulldogs, so why feel the need to distinguish between the women’s teams?

The Frontier Conference thinks we should knock it off.

Recently, the conference sent out a school name style guide to the media. The Frontier Conference decided to do this because many media members keep getting the names of some of the school’s wrong.

Those media members clearly never had a journalism class with Sharon Barrett.

Schools like Montana Western and the University of Providence spent a lot money in recent years to rebrand the schools, so they would like to see reporters get their names right.

The new style guide threw out some interesting tidbits. For instance, Carroll College would like to be referred to as the “Fighting Saints” on first reference, even though that seems like a bit of an oxymoron.

Then there was the following line, added at the request of Lewis-Clark State Sports Information Director Alisha Alexander: “All Frontier Conference schools prefer that official mascot names be used for both genders. The term ‘Lady’ preceding any mascot name is unacceptable.”

More importantly, it is simply the wrong word.

I saw an illustration of just how wrong that word is referring to female athletes at the 1994 Women’s World Speed Skating Championships in Butte. Before the racing began, a pair of skaters from the Netherlands were warming up in front of a crowd held back by a metal barrier.

The skaters were jumping up and down, shaking their legs and stretching to get ready for one of the most important races of their lives.

The women had long, blond hair, and they looked like twins straight out of a Doublemint commercial.

Then, like nobody was watching, one of the skaters stopped a few feet from the crowd, put her right index finger on her right nostril and blew a snot rocket out of her left nostril. Then she switched hands and blew another out of her left.

Now, I’ve never been to charm and beauty school, but that does not seem very “lady like.”

But, then again, that skater was there to race, not drink tea.

Many of the female athletes we know might very well engage in lady-like activity off the court. They might walk with proper posture and sit with their backs straight and legs crossed, right over left.

When they are on the court or field, however, they all seem to unveil their inner Marla Hooch.

That is because sports was never meant to be lady like or gentlemanly.

Kaylee Zard, Hannah Dean, Britt Cooper and Parker Esary seem to be very nice young women off the court. You might even call them “ladies.”

On the court, however, the Frontier Conference women’s basketball players would probably hip check their own grandmothers for a chance to get a rebound. Once they step onto the court, they are fierce competitors who are playing to win.

The same could be said for many of the men and boys we like to watch. While they might show off good sportsmanship, they would never be described as gentlemen while competing.

That is OK, because they are there to compete, not place their jacket over a puddle so a lady can safely cross.

Unless you’re talking about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, playing any sport does not require the grace and charm of Jackie O.

Actually, it requires the opposite.

In the last 30 years, I have seen exactly one player who fit the “lady” description on the court. Even though she was 6-foot-2, she never liked to try to rebound the ball or catch a pass because she was afraid to break a nail.

She never wanted to play basketball in the first place, but she gave into the expectations that come with being so tall.

That’s it. Three decades, one lady.

Female athletes deserve the same respect as the men. If they go school at Montana Tech and play a sport, they are Orediggers regardless of the locker room they change in.

If they go to Montana Western, they are Bulldogs. If they go to Lewis-Clark State College, they are Warriors.

However, I am not sure why female athletes are called “Skylights” at MSU-Northern when the men are called “Lights.”

As Sharon Barrett will surely attest, that is not even close to almost the right word.

— Bill Foley, who is always very gentlemanly, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 3 comments



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3 Comments

  • Anne Hix
    January 22, 2019, 4:19 pm

    What a great article! Just a little more about how tough Kaylee Zard is…….she has been playing the whole season with torn and stretched ligaments in her ankle. She will have surgery right after the season is over. She elected to play with the pain because her Coach and team needed her so badly. We are so proud of her. Thank you.

    REPLY
  • Karen Cook
    January 22, 2019, 4:46 pm

    I could not agree more! The ‘lady’ moniker is often used to insinuate that women’s teams do not work as hard or deserve as much attention.

    REPLY
  • Babydonkey
    January 29, 2019, 11:34 am

    Oh the monstrosity
    No more LPGA, WNBA, PWBA.
    At least the GLOW wrestlers got out just in time!!!

    REPLY

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