McKean Minute: Beyond Sportsman – Terms That Describe All of Us

I’m not especially “woke” in the contemporary term, meaning hyper-aware of the inequities of our culture. But I’d like to think that I’m sensitive to the things that divide us, and more interested in working on ways to unite Americans rather than ways that segment and differentiate us.

As a writer, I’m also aware of the power of language to perpetuate divisions and either include or exclude people based on terms. Take the gender-specific term “man.” As in, “anchorman,” or “midshipman,” terms that originated around the reality that only men were involved in the tasks described. That’s happily not the case any longer, but our terms take time to catch up with the times.

Which is why I think it’s time to rethink our use of the term “sportsman” to describe hunters, anglers, and other members of this outdoor-loving tribe to which I happily belong. I have a teenaged daughter who is every bit as capable in the field as any adult man I know, and while she’s never once balked at or mentioned that the term “sportsman” excludes her, as her father, I don’t think it describes her adequately. Several of my buddies in my hometown started a conservation organization a couple years back. We call ourselves “Hi-Line Sportsmen,” but the most active and capable members of the club are women, and I don’t want our name to give the idea to a girl or woman that they’re not welcome to join us.

The origins of the term “sportsman” go back to the early 1700s, as the notion of hunting and fishing for recreation and enjoyment started to displace the idea of both activities as ways to prevent starvation. And the code of conduct that governed the activities gave rise to another term: “sportsmanship.”

I’d hate to abandon that notion that hunting and fishing has a higher calling, but I’m casting about, as it were, for another term to describe all of us as well as what we do. I suppose we could settle on the unsatisfyingly bland term “sportsperson,” but that seems lazy to me. Or maybe we’re “sports,” but that term seems sort of flimsy and frivolous and doesn’t get at the live-taking (and life-giving) gravity of what we do.

I’m gravitating to the term “chaser,” which borrows from an even older tradition, a gender-neutral Middle English word that describes our pursuit of wild animals, and echoes the French term for hunter: “chasseur.” It doesn’t quite describe our pursuit of fish, but it gets closer than another candidate: “stalker.”

Or maybe we look for a term that describes where we exercise our inclination to hunt and fish: outside.

Are we “outies,” like a collective belly button? Or are we “outsters,” which might also describe a fringe political party?

I’d love to hear from you. Can you propose a term that is inclusive, descriptive, and durable enough to last longer than this current political moment?

McKean Minute: The Secret Language of Sportsfolk

I have been trying to take a day off to fish all summer, and despite the season and the reason, I haven’t either made or found the time to go nearly as often as I want.

That changed this week. My buddy Joe called to say that conditions looked good tomorrow, and could I join him on our local walleye lake, Fort Peck Reservoir. I could have found good reasons to decline, but on both cellular and psychic levels, I needed a day of fishing, so I accepted.

Joe is a long-time walleye and northern pike predator, and he spends more days on the water, in all seasons, than he would admit to folks outside our circle. But for those inside the circle, he’s the guy you want to fish with. He knows the spots to fish and the gear to use, and he’s pretty good company, besides.

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