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For Erin Andrews, a talented reporter with intelligent opinions, who is the frequent subject of speculation as to which football coach she’s sleeping with.
At the beginning of October, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made headlines for his response to a question posed by the Charlotte Observer’s Panthers beat writer Jourdan Rodrigue. Newton told Rodrigue, a woman, that it was “funny to hear a female talk about routes like that.” Although Newton’s comments were met with outrage by many, NFL fans included, several players stepped up to defend him. Former Seahawk John Moffitt, for example, took to Facebook in what can only be considered a tirade against female sports reporters. Moffitt requested that women “stop coming into male spaces and demanding respect” and maintained that “she was fed that question like most of her kind are.” He summarized his position by stating that, categorically, women are “incapable” of knowing football.
Although my internal sense of schadenfreude was pleased to see backlash against Newton (who helped orchestrate Auburn’s narrow defeat of the Oregon Ducks in the 2011 BCS National Championship, not that I’m still bitter), I was both disappointed and unsurprised by his comments. Newton’s response to Rodrigue was altogether too familiar to any female sports fan. I grew up on sports and sports fandom culture, in a family of Shabbat dinners where candlelighting times were fudged a little so we wouldn’t miss tip-off. I knew that World War 1 ended in 1918, not because I had great history teachers, but because that was the last time the Red Sox won the World Series (this was, of course, before the Curse of the Bambino was broken).
Yet I also constantly found my fandom suspect. According to the majority of (male) sports fans, something in my fallopian tubes blocked off the part of my brain responsible for intelligent athletic discourse, and I consequently could not possibly have a valid opinion on what was going on. What follows is a list of real, actual responses I have gotten from men upon learning that I, a woman, am a sports fan.
Really? Well, then, [insert trivia question here].
Two years ago, a male friend and I went to visit another friend of ours at college. We both asked if the TV in the dorm cafeteria could be changed to the Portland Trailblazers game that was on at that time, since we were Blazers fans. The group of people at the table (all men) completely accepted my friend’s statement at face value. I, however, was faced with a rapid-fire series of questions: “you’re a Blazers fan?” “Who’s their star player?” “What’s the name of their coach?” “Is Lamarcus Aldridge still on the team?”
Without thinking, I rattled off the answer: yes; Damian Lillard; Terry Stotts, since they fired Nate McMillan; no, he’s on the Spurs now—he’s from Texas originally and will definitely benefit from their income tax laws. And yet, after my fandom was accepted and the channel changed, I turned back to the table, acknowledging the tremendous sexism in what had just happened.
“Why did you feel the need to interrogate me? Why did you accept his fandom and not mine?”
For a long time, I thought the sports trivia requests made of female sports fans were kind of funny, a chance to show off a little. I remember being in 3rd grade, proudly reciting the Blazers starting line-up (including heights, positions, and colleges), not realizing I was being asked to do so to prove my worth. We are willing to accept, without condition, that men are sports fans; when women make the same claims, they are met with suspicion and scepticism.
Is your boyfriend a sports fan?
Maybe. Who cares? This a) is none of your business, and b) has no impact on whether or not my sports fandom is genuine. The implication that I could only be interested in something to impress a man both perpetuates the patriarchy and removes all sense of female autonomy. Regardless of the fact that it makes much more sense for me to be dating a sports fan if I am also already a sports fan (that’s how having things in common works, FYI), assuming that my actions are based on impressing men is sexist and offensive. The only way a potential partner’s sports affiliations will impact my life is if he’s a Yankee; I promised my mom, very early on, that I would never marry a Yankee.
Wow, that’s right, who told you to say that?
Newton and Moffitt seem particularly fond of this one — after all, why have we so quickly given up on the investigation of who fed Jourdan Rodrigue the line about routes? Since I, a person with a uterus, could not have possibly formed my opinions about sports, it’s important that I provide a full bibliography of my stances (don’t worry, it’s not long, it’s just the name of my current boyfriend). This question, were it posed equally to men and women and phrased in a less aggressive manner, is not unreasonable—the speaker could simply be requesting new sources of sports news (if you want my recommendation: since ESPN bought FiveThirtyEight in 2013, it has produced consistently excellent statistical analyses). However, that’s never the connotation or the point. Instead, this question serves to propagate the stereotype that women cannot form their own, coherent opinions — especially about sports.
*eye roll* It’s the 21st century. Women can do things, too.
Who do you think is the hottest player on the team?
This one is potentially the most problematic. Sure, for one, it’s a question about sports that only ever gets asked to women. My brother watches the women’s gymnastics competitions every year, and never have I even considered suggesting that he’s only in it for a nice peek at Simone Biles’ ass while she does a double layout.
Beyond that, however, this perpetuates a culture where sex and attraction are seen as the only plausible motivation for any type of conduct. People asking this question do so because they are operating under the assumption that I, a woman, could not find enjoyment in watching sports for the athleticism, the strategy, the culture. I cannot be tuning in because I’m genuinely interested in the success (or, as the case may be, lack) of the Timbers’ defense. It must be because I think David Beckham is a dreamboat.
To the female sports fans who have heard one or more of these things (or the countless other variations): you’re not alone.
To the male sports fans who have said one or more of these things (or the countless other variations): we live in a culture that has perpetuated certain definitions of masculinity and femininity, definitions which make unambiguous that men have claim to the realm of sports fandom. I ask that, next time you say something to a female sports fan, stop and ask yourself: would I be saying this if this person were a man? If the answer is no, it’s probably offensive, and she’s probably heard it before.
Abby Diebold is the Social Media Editor for The Daily Gazette. She is both a sports fan and proud possessor of ovaries.