Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced today that the university's women's athletic programs will wear a commemorative patch honoring the Lady Vol name in the 2016-17 athletic year, with support from Athletic Director Dave Hart. The women's basketball team is the exception, as they have continued and will continue to use the Lady Vol name. After next season it will be up to the individual female athletes to determine whether or not they want to continue to wear the patch.
The language coming from the university suggests they hope today is the end of a year-plus ordeal involving Tennessee's brand and identity. Most aren't so sure it's that simple. The Powers That Be at Tennessee pushed through the change in the Lady Vol name many saw as unnecessary while transitioning from adidas to Nike. The most passionate among the dissenters have most recently involved lawmakers in the state legislature to try to force a change back to the Lady Vol name.
In the middle are the current athletes and coaches, whose opinion is often one of the least heard in this conversation. Chancellor Cheek and the university he represents have often tried to back this change as a way to promote unity:
Cheek said he didn't regret UT's decision to go with Power T for all sports except women's hoops, saying it served as unifying component— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) February 1, 2016
And obviously, that hasn't been the case in the overall conversation. The change has done more to create a new problem than to solve one many weren't sure existed in the first place. But here again, I'd be most eager to listen to the opinions of the current athletes and coaches on the matter.
So when looking to make some kind of compromise, what did the university do?
Cheek said coaches and student-athletes were informed today but they did not have input into the decision.— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) February 1, 2016
If you want something to serve as a unifying component, you'd better ask the people most directly affected what they think. Even giving each individual student the option to wear the patch isn't good enough when those individual students weren't involved in the conversation about the patch in the first place. Maybe in a year this does make some things better. Maybe it refuses to let a wound heal. Either way, Chancellor Cheek (and, I would volunteer, some on the other side of the argument as well) damage the integrity of the conversation itself by extolling unity as the key virtue while refusing to involve those they wish to unify.