The men’s crew of Tufts University was almost up the creek without a paddle this weekend after a suspension threatened to keep them out of the New England Championships. The punishment was imposed by the team’s own coaches after the rowers showed up at a spring fling event in t-shirts bearing the unauthorized slogan “Check out our cox.” An anonymous observer, spotting sexism, filed a “bias incident” report.
Judging from student message boards, the disciplinary action was widely regarded as unfair. A post on Barstool Sports Boston blamed “batshit crazy feminists and delusional school administrators.” On Thursday, after crew members apologized, the suspension was lifted by the university president.
Perhaps suspension was overly harsh. Then again, the T-shirts were overly puerile. It can seem almost futile these days to protest the sexualization of pretty much everyone and everything — but let’s try anyway. If a team representing an institution of higher education (where I’m a grad student) is aiming for clever and funny, is it unreasonable to expect a version of clever and funny that doesn't target and sexualize the one woman in the boat (the cox), or hint approvingly at the aggressively sexualized culture within some fraternities and college sports teams? And could we perhaps resist characterizing protestors as sexless, humorless crones? Some feminists will have been offended. Other feminists won’t. Anyone had the right to raise the issue.
Here’s an alternative t-shirt slogan, used at Oxford: “Non circum coitus.” That’s Latin (sort of) for “We don't [expletive] around.” It’s smart and self-mocking. It contains the daring sexual reference that rowers apparently require, yet the message is clearly about athletic performance — not penis size, dorm hook-up plans, the sexual availability of the cox, or the fatuity of the wearer. As far as I know, this slogan isn’t copyright protected. Feel free to borrow it.