A John F. Kennedy High School senior is calling on the school to stop referring to its female sports teams as the “Lady Cougars.” In an op-ed that appeared in the school year’s first edition of The Cougar Crier, the student newspaper, Rachel Nossen, of Merrick, argued that the title undercuts female athletes who work just as hard as their male counterparts.
Nossen, 17, is the captain of the girls’ varsity basketball team, and she plays varsity soccer. Earlier this year, the basketball squad advanced to the Nassau Class A semifinals for the first time in program history. And while the accomplishment was historic, Nossen said hearing the established “Lady Cougars” term both on and off the hardwood made celebrating bittersweet.
“They’re recognizing how great we are but still saying the word ‘lady’ in front of our team name,” she said. “It’s confusing because it separates our success from the Cougars’ success — they should be the same success.”
Nossen started playing travel sports in third grade. In her op-ed, she explained that she was the only girl in elementary school who played basketball with the boys during recess. “The boy captains never picked me last because they knew I could keep up with them and score baskets,” she wrote. “Still, today when boys or older men see me on the court, they say, ‘Wow, you don’t shoot like a girl’, or, ‘You’re very physical.’ What does that mean?”
Nossen argues that while these comments may seem innocent, they perpetuate an age-old stereotype that sports are male-dominated, and ultimately undermine the skills and abilities of female athletes.
“Society and the media paint girls [in] stereotypical feminine roles, and that’s not the case whatsoever,” she said. “I know how amazingly athletic girls can be, but they don’t get the same athletic attention as boys do.”
In her op-ed, Nossen argued that women’s sports are treated as secondary since their competitions are gender marked — for example, the Women’s Final Four — and that these distinctions inadvertently bias viewers and fans. She added that professional female athletes also face gender discrimination in the sports world, citing the U.S. women’s soccer team’s 2019 lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. In their filing, 28 team members described “institutionalized gender discrimination” within the federation that they say has existed for years, according to The New York Times.
That same year, the team earned a record fourth World Cup. “They won the FIFA cup but lost the lawsuit,” Nossen said.
Mallory Palmieri, Nossen’s coach, said she was moved by her captain’s op-ed. She agreed that gender marking women’s sports teams is “a little messed up.”
“When I was in high school, people would use the term [Lady Cougars] when they wrote about us or announced it at a game,” Palmieri said. “It doesn’t bother me so much, but it annoys me . . . that my players feel affected by it. Our girls’ basketball team did a tremendous job this year, and it goes to show that anyone is capable of anything — we shouldn’t be demoted based on our gender.”
The purpose of publishing the op-ed, Nossen said, was to raise awareness of a controversial topic, and in doing so, encourage people to “be more cautious” about the implications of gender marking.
“What’s good about Kennedy High School is our principal is very aware and willing to make changes to better the school culture and environment,” Nossen added. “By working together, we can influence . . . the district to get rid of derogatory terms, and hopefully, throughout time, the culture will change.”
Kennedy Principal Gerard Owenburg said Nossen’s op-ed mirrored the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died of cancer on Sept. 18. “I can’t help but think of the similarities in Rachel’s message and Ginsburg’s fight for gender equality,” he said in a statement to the Herald. “In the wake of Ginsburg’s passing, it should give us all a sense of hope that students like Rachel will lead the way for this generation of women.”
Visit https://cougarcrier.blogspot.com/ to read Nossen’s op-ed, “Let’s Hear it for the Ladies, Cougars!”