Here at SB Nation, we've been talking lately about the role of women in sports journalism. Sure, we've talked about our role as reporters of sporting news, but it's our role as participants--as readers, commentators, and sharers of all things sports--that's got the ball rolling this time.
As Hustle Belt's only female contributor on a staff north of 40, I've been asked the question: "As a woman, what's it like to be a sports fan?"
Well, I'll start my answer by sharing an anecdote from my college years at Eastern Michigan.
I was at a party at friend's place one night, and SportsCenter was playing on a TV in the background. I know, crazy party, right? There were a lot of people in a not-so-big apartment, and other than cheering on my roommate in a heated game of beer pong, there wasn't a whole lot to do but stand awkwardly to the side and focus on whatever was on the TV.
I found myself standing at the counter near a handful of men I didn't know when I made some offhand comment about a football highlight playing on the TV. The men must've been watching too, because they turned to me and we started chatting.
Here's how the conversation played out:
Random man #1: "Oh, you like football, huh?"
Me: "Yeah, I'm going into sports journalism."
Random man #2: "Really?"
Me: "Yes... really..."
At this point, I started to feel a little weird. You know that scene in a movie when an awkward, timid person is walking down a hallway and a group of people are off to the side, whispering to each other and snickering? It felt a little like that.
#1: "Well, what do you know about football?"
Me: "Um, I don't know... a lot."
#2: "Well if you know so much about football, who's the quarterback for Stanford?"
Me: "Andrew Luck"
#1: "WOW SHE GOT IT RIGHT!"
#2: "OOOH I GUESS SHE DOES KNOW ABOUT FOOTBALL!"
At this point, I had walked away to find one of my friends, because as much as I like being grilled on my sports knowledge and having my career choice questioned by a group of strangers, I didn't care to hear what kind of trivia question they had in store for me next.
This memory might seem pointless to most of you. Who cares if some random guys at a party asked me about Andrew Luck? But for all the women reading this, you've been there--you know exactly why I'd pick this story to share.
As women, we're constantly being asked to justify our sports fandom, because we couldn't possibly be football fans, or hockey fans, or baseball fans in the same way as men.
Statistics, rosters, play-calling, records, trade deadlines--things that women actually know and follow.
But no matter what, there are always those men that think of female sports fans as women in pink, rhinestone jerseys who serve beer to the men in their lives and pipe in with a question about first-downs here and there.
To them, I couldn't possibly want to be a sports reporter because I, you know, actually like sports.
"But you've never played football"
One of my favorite arguments against female sports fans is that because we may or may not have actually played the sport, we can't possibly know enough about it to participate in an educated discussion about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, or whether Felix Hernandez got snubbed for the Cy Young.
Look, we get it: you played pee-wee, maybe high school football and had the chance to play in college if only you hadn't blown out your knee or gotten some other type of freak injury that sidelined you for life, and if that hadn't happened you probably would've been able to go pro, who knows? We've heard it all before.
Sure, maybe women don't fully understand all the little nuances that come with playing a sport at a competitive level, but do you actually know everything there is to know about everything you've ever enjoyed in your life?
Let me answer that for you: No.
Mel Kiper Jr. is, well, maybe not the most well-liked football analyst out there, maybe not even close, but ESPN doesn't pay him a bazillion dollars to grade college football players for nothing. Every year, they put this guy on your TV to tell you why Team X should take Player Y and how Player Y's skills make him an excellent candidate to play professional football.
Wanna know something? The guy has never played football.
Do you think Mel goes to a party with his friends only to be questioned about what he really knows about the game of football? Well, maybe... like I said, he's not everyone's favorite.
The point is: he's a dude. His gender apparently gives him an inherent understanding of sports we women could just never comprehend.
The bottom line
So, I was asked what it's really like to be a woman and sports fan, and in case I haven't painted a clear enough picture, here it is:
Look, I'm not comparing it to the laundry list of issues women face daily. Struggling to be accepted in the sports community is not exactly up there with unequal pay in the workforce or reproductive rights.
But you know what, it's on the list.
Because if I were a man, I wouldn't have to prove my knowledge to be accepted into the fandom. I wouldn't have to constantly explain that no, I don't want to be Erin Andrews, I just want to write about sports. I wouldn't have to constantly hear, "She's a girl, what does she know?" not just about me, but about all women attempting to have a normal, civilized discussion about current sporting events.
And I wouldn't have to write an article explaining what it's like to be a man and a sports fan, because I'd just be living my life.