Professor advocates giving gendered school nicknames the ax

Lori Shontz

The University of Arkansas-Monticello chose its mascot, the Boll Weevil, in the early 1900s. When women’s sports teams were added over half a century later, the university leaders decided they needed a separate nickname. To this day, women’s teams at the university are called the Cotton Blossoms.

UO journalism professor Lori Shontz wrote an op-ed for The Register-Guard. In it, she provides historical context for South Eugene High School’s recent choice to change its mascot name from the Axemen to the Axe.

When Title IX, an anti-discrimination law, passed in 1972, many schools wondered what to call their new female athletes. Many added “Lady” as a qualifier; the UO used the term “Lady Ducks” through the 1980s. For years at Augustana College in Illinois, the men were known as the Vikings and the women as Vi Queens. At Tarleton State, the men are Texans while the women are still called TexAnns.

“But somehow no one ever has ever referred to the men’s teams at the University of Delaware as the Gentleman Blue Hens,” Shontz writes. “Why? Because the unspoken default position is that athletes are male unless otherwise indicated.”

“It’s the same reason why too often fans and journalists refer to basketball and women’s basketball. Basketball — or any sport — is understood to be played by men unless you qualify it.”

Shontz mentions several research studies from the 1980s and 1990s that found that schools with gendered nicknames invested more money in their men’s programs than their women’s.  

“Don’t tell me that the name doesn’t matter,” Shontz writes. “If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be talking so much about it.”

For the full story, see “From Boll Weevils to Axemen, names matter,” in The Register-Guard.

Shontz spent more than two decades as a writer and editor specializing in sports, women’s issues and higher education. She now specializes in teaching core writing and reporting skills and co-directs Writing Central, the SOJC’s peer writing support program.