Great questions! Let me break this down for you. I'd love to hear others' input (especially from players and parents)
a) The season ends and the group dies down briefly between when transfers slow down and spring ball starts.
b) Because they’re also people. Most people look at last names in sports the same as numbers- as a way of distinguishing players. The last names are used because there's more repetition in first names. However, the way we use last names points to people only as a descriptive characteristic: it's akin to referring to somebody as their number, position, or accolades. If I say "Minnesota's primary OH," "number 12," "the B1G Player of the Year," or "Landfair," these all make you think of the same person, but only as a player—not as a person with a life outside of the sport. Calling her Taylor, on the other hand, is more likely to make you think of her holistically as a person. I'm not arguing that this is the inherent meaning of first vs last names, but that these are the ways they're typically used and understood in sports.
Now, why is it important to talk about athletes as people and not just players? It's well-documented that student athletes*
struggle disproportionately with mental illness (see, for example, this article
's literature review). A major reason for this is that the demands we (peers, parents, coaches, and the overall community) make of student athletes lose sight of their personhood. This is visible when we stigmatize off-days, produce media around how one player's mistake may have singlehandedly lost a game or season, and broadly place way more pressure on a student athlete than any 18-22 year old should have to deal with. Think about Simone Biles and the criticism/threats she faced for her partial olympic withdrawal. Of course it sounds silly to say that the solution to this is to call them by their first names, but anything we can do to stop the "de-personification" of student athletes is a step in the right direction. And, one step further, insisting on not
calling student athletes by their first name (yes, unintentionally) reinforces this de-personification.
Another way of looking at it is, who do you typically call by their last name? In general, the answer is adults and people who are "above" you (in rank or whatever else that may mean). It may not sound bad to treat student athletes with the respect of an associate, boss, etc. However, the same problem arises here: creating that persona for them is a way of justifying putting more weight on their shoulders than any teenager/young adult should have to worry about. Obviously there's going to be more pressure on a student athlete than their non-athlete peers, that's inevitable. But the gap is too big, and that leads to its own plethora of problems.
This problem extends beyond student athletes, but that's a way bigger issue and this is already going to be too long of a post as it is.
c) You are absolutely right. It's weird to only do this for women's sports. But that actually works the other way; women's sports are closer to how we should try to treat student athletes. Let me walk you through it.
I was talking with people about the different rules in women's hockey and I realized that I never understood who was in support of this difference. Based on the way the game's played it seems like all of the girls wish they were allowed to hit each other. So, I looked it up, and I found an interesting perspective (aside from the idea that it's not "lady-like"). The article I read mentioned that part of the reason women's sports are less physical is that there is less of a path to sports as a career for women. As such, it makes sense why they take more care to prevent against life-changing injury (as awful as it sounds, there isn't the "upside" of that preparing them for a career in the NHL). This is part of why within men's hockey, the rules allow for a more physical game the higher up you get.
Now, how does any of that relate? Professional athletes are celebrities and, like other athletes, they tend not to be seen as people. With higher chances of making a career in their sport, male student athletes are seen as people less than their female counterparts. So, to summarize, it's not that we disrespect female athletes by calling them by their first names. Rather, one small silver lining of the inequalities in pro sports is that female student athletes get seen more as people because they're more likely to grow into a life outside of their sport
. And the solution to this, to the extent that one exists, is not to stop seeing female athletes as people, but instead to work on seeing male athletes that way too.
Sorry this was so long, I started typing and couldn't stop... hopefully this helps clear things up for you.