When University of Oregon football fans cheer their team, they often hold out their hands in the shape of the letter “O,” for Oregon.
If this makes some Ducks players blush, it is because many of them chose sign language to fulfill their foreign language requirement, and in sign language, the fans are saying — screaming, really — the word vagina. Twenty-nine players on the team are enrolled in the university’s American Sign Language program. Their teacher delights in telling them the true meaning of the sign when they form a spade-shaped “O” with their hands.
“I did the ‘O’ once, and I never did it again,” said LaMichael James, the team’s star running back, who recently injured his right elbow. When discussing this, James spoke quietly so that those nearby would not hear. He would not make the sign. His elbow hurt, he demurred.
Older players recommended the sign language course, players said, because they found it engaging and intuitive — they had grown up using different signing systems on the field. A few players said sign language was a welcome alternative to Spanish, which had been a struggle in high school.