For as long as I can remember, I grew up watching sports. Whether it is cheering on the Canucks with my grandfather or watching the Dallas Cowboys on a sketchy Reddit stream in my room, I love it all. Like most 20-year-old guys, I enjoy keeping up with at least the headlines of most major league sports. The one catch is, I am not a guy. Now for some reason, my gender and enjoyment of sports do not add up for guys and girls alike. I consistently get asked by both genders questions such as: What guy do you watch football to impress? Or I get told to prove that I am “actually a fan.”
This leads me to a question that I continuously ponder as I watch Sunday football. In an era so obsessed with gender equality, why can I not be a legitimate female NFL fan? Why do I need to prove myself? Furthermore, as our society progresses and gender equality is consistently championed, why are we still allowing sports to be a predominantly male-dominated space in society?
Over the years, sports have been a transformative force in my life and have brought me incredible joy through all stages of life. I played basketball and volleyball throughout high school, which gave me an emotional outlet, and a platform to build unbreakable bonds with lifelong friends. This aspect of personal and team success is something most guys and gals are familiar with. Incredible female athletes are continually proving themselves on international stages. Instead, it is the aspect of watching sports that women are less involved in. Women let men be the primary consumers of major league sports. I say that “women let men” do this because many women are complicit in this exclusion. In fact, usually, it is less exclusion and more a self-imposed and purposeful removal from this sphere of society. I have rarely encountered men wanted to exclude me from watching major league sports. Usually, they are pleasantly surprised and even excited to have me over for Sunday football. Nevertheless, they are so unaccustomed to having a woman be actively engaged in a sports game with them, that it leads to disbelief. This surprise results in me being quizzes about players to prove that I am, in fact, a “legitimate fan.” Is it possible that I watch sports for my own enjoyment and not to impress a guy? Yes. Yes, it is.
My point is that there is a stigma surrounding girls watching major league sports, and this stigma wasn’t one created solely by men. It is a stigma that both men and women are equally guilty for upholding.
Women uphold the stereotype by often leaving themselves uneducated and uninvolved. Major league sports are an incredible platform for uniting people. They provide a ritual of doing something together and carving time out of your day to sit down with others. Then while watching a game, there is adrenaline, excitement and the intellectual commitment of analyzing the game’s strategy. There is a healthy competition when you and a fellow viewer cheer for rival teams and the beautiful bond when you share the loyalty to the same team. These are just some of the ways that sports forge relationships and make people feel as if they are part of something. So, if viewing sports can be a platform of such positivity, then why do women often not want to be a part of it?
I know there are other things that many women like to watch more and trust me, I am a large proponent for shows and movies. Don’t get me wrong I’ve watched every single season of Gossip Girl at least twice, but what many women don’t understand is that watching an NFL game can be just as gratifying.
Today, we constantly see badass women who are standing up for themselves and showing the world that women can do anything our male counterparts can. We are taking up as much space as we need and want, and we are not spending a single second apologizing for it. So why are we timid about entering the sport watching space? It might not seem like a big deal, but it is. When women don’t consume sports, it shows society that it isn’t a priority for them. This can negatively affect female athletes because if women don’t consume sports, female athletes are less likely to receive adequate attention when participating in them. These ideas connect to why the men’s competition is called “The FIFA World Cup,” and the women’s tournament is called “The Women’s FIFA World Cup.” If women do not prioritize sports, sports will not prioritize women.
One of my male friends once bet me that none of the women around us in class could name three New York major league sports teams. Now, this might seem hard, but really it isn’t because for every single sport such as football, basketball, baseball and hockey, New York has two teams. This means that any girl we asked had eight teams to choose from and would have to name under half of them. This feat is made even easier by the fact that New York’s sports teams are some of the most famous in the world and are integrated into a lot of popular cultures. Just from merely watching the TV show Friends and listening to Joey talk you should at least know the Rangers, Knicks and Yankees. Yet, when it came time for my friend to execute his hypothesis, not a single girl around us could complete the feat. This experience really awakened me to how removed sports can be in some people’s lives.
Women regularly discount this ignorance by saying, “Major league sports are a ‘guy thing.’” This excuse seems odd to me since every single one of my guy friends can name at least ten romantic comedies, something traditionally labelled as more feminine. In fact, they have probably watched all ten of them and loved all 120 minutes. One of guy friends has a hockey team that has a huge weekly “Bachelor in Paradise” viewing parties. Similarly, another one’s house has an extensive scented candle collection. All of these activities encompass spheres of society that are traditionally considered feminine. Still, males constantly penetrate these spheres and enjoy these “girl things.”
If sports are an incredible outlet and platform, then women should stake a claim for themselves. This is a sphere of society women cannot afford to leave themselves out of.
Now for any women reading this article, I promise you that sports are for you. You might not think they are, but this is because of the stereotypes that have permeated our consciousness from a very young age. It is probably not that you don’t like any sports. Instead, it’s more likely that you haven’t had enough positive exposure to sports. You see, of course, you won’t like football if you don’t know what a “first down” is or if you don’t know any of the spicy drama Antonio Brown has been caught up in. If you don’t understand the difference between kicking a field goal and a two-point conversion, yes, you are inevitably going to be confused. Just like anything else, if you understand it, you will enjoy it more. If you have a team to root for, and if you know a few player’s names and their incredible stories, you’ll be engaged. The biggest thing is to try because you really can’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
By educating ourselves about sports, women can, in turn, fix the problem of having to legitimize ourselves as fans. Having female major league sports audiences will become more normalized. I dream that one day, society will advance to the point where men stop saying to me, “Wow, you know a lot about football for a girl” and compliment me by saying, “You know a lot about football.” They will not see me as an anomaly but instead as a regular fan, similar to them. Maybe one day, I can stop having men who watch no football except for the Super Bowl mansplain what the position of a Safety is when they end up accidentally explaining a Corner. One day, we can be on an equal playing field while we share this incredible passion.
So, for all the women reading this I encourage you to watch the game tonight. I don’t care what sport it is but just watch it. Google what you don’t understand and clarify what confuses you. There is no shame in not knowing while you’re trying. You could watch a highlight reel video to get yourself pumped. Try watching an e60 online because sometimes knowing the stories behind the players helps you invest more in the game. Understanding the players’ histories made me a lot more passionate about the game.
For all the men reading this, I encourage you to support the women around you that are trying to learn. Don’t undermine their learning process and don’t laugh if they get something wrong. I encourage men to teach those who are trying and facilitate inclusion whenever possible.
So, this is a final reminder for everyone and anyone.
Guys don’t own sports.
Sports are universal and for everyone.
As women, we don’t have to explain or justify why we watch sports.
As women, we are just as entitled to a spot on the couch to watch the game as anyone else.
As women, we have the power to minimize stereotypes and create new societal norms.
I am a woman. I love football. I am a woman who loves football.
The times are changing, and we need to change with them.