On March 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day to commemorate the strides women have made in all aspects of society. This day has been observed since the beginning of the nineteenth century – a point in time where women were granted a number of rights and privileges amidst the rise of fundamental principles we value today. However, a number of women in the sports field, both fans and professionals alike, are still being sidelined. Their “knowledge” of the game comes into play when people criticize female analysts and fans discussing a men’s game. The same rules don’t seem to apply to men in any way, shape or form. It’s time to change that.
I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by sports. Watching football on Sunday was considered a religious holiday and my early February birthday was, and will always be
synonymous with the Super Bowl. I grew up playing on all-guys teams, because the number of
girls interested in playing sports in my community was dismal. My mom introduced me to more sports than I can remember and coached my youth “recreational” days. My dad guided me through the college recruiting process, always making a point to sneak into the athletic facilities while on campus tours. So when the opportunity presented itself to major in Sports Management and move to New York, home to over ten professional sports franchises, there was no question to what my answer would be.
Living in New York City has been a dream come true. Coming from San Diego, where fair-weather fans are as common as the beautiful weather itself, it was a relief to be part of a city where fans bleed for their team. That dream turned into a devastating nightmare when, over the course of the past two years, I began to notice an unsettling trend. Though the uneven ratio of girls to guys at local sports bars has yet to bother me, the attitudes of some of my fellow sports fans have begun to surface. The more people I’ve met, the more I’ve realized how quickly my comments about sporting events are dismissed and marginalized. By the time this past October rolled around, I could barely get a word in about Mathias Kiwanuka’s sack in the 49ers game, let alone comment on Victor Cruz’s yardage stats. I was stunned, confused, and quite honestly a bit angry. Why didn’t my opinion matter to my male friends? Was it because I wasn’t from New York and rooting for the G-Men? Or was it purely because I was a girl, which barred me from making a comment?
The question stems from a simple, “is it because I’m a girl?” and develops into a more complex question – “is it because of our cultural upbringing?” Sports are valued as a sign of masculinity, which makes it taboo for women to watch ESPN with the boys. Our society has created such a competitive culture, that girls have to compete for their right to express an opinion concerning the questionable call in the MNF game. It appears to me that there’s something seriously wrong within the sport culture and the mindset of American sports fans. The verdict is out: when one group of fans isn’t taken seriously, the ref needs to throw his flag and blow the whistle.
Last week, Danica Patrick made history at Daytona. No, she did not finish first, nor did she break any time barriers. She simply made headlines by being the first female to win a pole position in the Sprint Cup Series, finishing eighth overall – the best finish by a woman. Though she didn’t get the result she was looking for, she made the news for being a female in a male dominated sport. She has proven that she can race, yet the male commentators failed to mention the strides she had made in the past five years – they only pointed out her differences, the fact that she was a woman and didn’t have what it takes to be the best. What they failed to recognize was that she wouldn’t be on the tracks, unless she could compete. What failed to happen was recognizing a woman for her accomplishments as professional, not as a member of the opposite sex. This system of thinking as portrayed in various media forms has extended to all aspects of life for females in the sporting world – the glass ceiling for female professionals has yet to be broken and the same goes for female sport fans. There is still an unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps us from rising to the upper rungs of the sports world, regardless of our education and achievements. We’ve come a long way since allowing women into the sports world, why don’t we still have respect?
But there’s more…
Earlier this year, the New York Rangers posted a female fan submission to their website titled the “Girls Guide to Watching the Rangers”; to say that I was infuriated would be a severe understatement. This sexist article sparked a fire within me and led me to question my fellow
sports fans across the country and around the globe. Just because I was born a girl, did that make me inferior to the Blueshirt next to me? Was I not allowed to scream at Lundqvist for letting in a soft goal because the gift shop carries pink sparkly t-shirts in my size? Though this article was quickly taken down, it was a wake up call to the sports community. The controversy it caused, brought to light to the number of female fans who take hockey, and any sports for that matter, seriously. But it also brought forward another important point – men aren’t the only ones to blame. Girls who take no interest in the game, yet ask if Gaborik scored a touchdown during the second half are at fault here as well. There is a large difference between learning about the game and being a bimbo wearing a Callahan jersey at a sports bar near MSG.
I can only wish that the next generation of sports fans, will grow up and see women at a bar discussing the game and not question it. I can only wish that those to come will be as nonchalant about a woman analyzing a football game as our society is about a woman analyzing the latest spring fashions. We obviously still have some ways to go.
Similar to some of my male counterparts, I am not a casual fan, either. I’ve spent a pretty penny on my fair share of athletics gear and events – I emptied my bank account for tickets to playoff games and paid more than necessary on sports memorabilia at various stadiums around the world. I’ve woken up at absurd times to watch World Cup matches and blown off parties to catch highlights on Sports Center. I am simply captivated by the stories of the underdog athletes; by every flip on the uneven bars, every kill on the court and of course every slide tackle on the soccer field. Athletics are beautiful in a million different ways – the tears shed are compiled of a little more than hard work and dedication, and the smiles are purer than the gold medals hanging loosely around each neck. So when you say I don’t know what I’m talking about, or ignore my comment, I take offense. You’re killing my livelihood. You’re killing my dream as a sports fan. There is a large number of female fans that bleed their team colors, that don’t want pink and sparkly rhinestones on their jerseys and most importantly know more about what is going on during the game than many men.
I’ve gotten used to it now. I entered into this field knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy. The stares are icy cold, the comments are as callous and uncultured as the calluses on my feet, and the confidence in us (or lack thereof) seems to exude from the pores of my fellow fans. “You’re just a girl, what do you know?” The words rattle my bones, and light a fuse within. But it’s time to change our sporting culture. It’s time to stand up and be the twelfth man. It’s time to root for the girls. Next time you’re with one of us, watching a game, please, before your blurt out “what do you know?” or quiz us on the roster, take the time to listen to us. Give us a chance. We aren’t just female fans, we’re just like you. Give us a chance to prove ourselves. Let us sit with you on Sundays and cheer on our team. We’re all rooting for the same side, why should we stand divided?