Like an unfortunate great number of things in our society, the realm of sports is typically thought of as a Boys Club. Men do sports. Men watch sports. Men talk about sports. Women? Oh, if you mean “football widows,” tailgate hostesses, cheerleaders, and the odd reporter or two…yeah, them too, I guess.
We won’t even begin to go into everything that’s wrong with that attitude. Instead, we picked two superfans out of the stands and asked them to speak up about life as a sports fan who also happens to be a woman.
Mara, 35, considers herself a hardcore Cincinnati Bengals, Reds, and University of Cincinnati Bearcats fan, and a casual fan of other sports, including hockey, basketball, soccer, and golf. Amanda, 30, originally hails from Philadelphia and now resides in North Central Florida, where she avidly follows most of the NFL (Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers in particular) and SEC college football, as well as U.S. soccer and hockey.
Here’s what we learned about the secret life of a sports fan:
1 – Sports fandom often runs in the family
“I started watching Penn State football with my stepdad VERY early in life,” Amanda recalls. “One of my earlier memories is watching the 1993 Rose Bowl parade pre-game.”
“My dad definitely started my fandom and passed his love for sports onto me,” Mara says. Her dad had the Bengals’ season tickets, and both her parents loved the Reds, so she saw plenty of time in the stands growing up.
Naturally, she’s also now a Bengals season ticket holder, and she still goes to sporting events for all her local teams with her family. “It’s not just for the game,” she explains. “It’s a great way to spend time with people you love, catch up with them, hang out, laugh and watch something we all enjoy. Some of my favorite memories are being at a game with my family.”
2 – These ladies are hardcore
No, we mean, really. Sports have a huge and visible presence in both Mara’s and Amanda’s lives.
“I keep up with sports on a daily basis,” Mara told us. “A lot of my friends like sports too so we’ll regularly attend a local game or get together somewhere and watch a sporting event.” She says she attends every home Bengals game and goes to 5-10 Reds games a season, in addition to a few Bearcats basketball and football games. The rest, she catches on broadcast, either TV or radio.
Amanda might just have her beat (not that it’s a competition, of course). The picture at the top of this article is of a sign that hangs in her home. She and her husband schedule practically their entire lives around the NFL and college football season schedules, including traveling to away games. “My husband and I got together partially because of our shared love of the NFL,” she explains. “Most social gatherings in the fall are to watch [University of Florida] Gators games. We’ve skipped family holiday parties, and even weddings, in order to attend NFL games in person.”
Let’s be honest…is there anything in your life that you dedicate this kind of attention to?
3 – They’re doing it for themselves
Anytime women venture into so-called men’s territory (ugh), they’re met with some side-eye and suspicion.
“When we’re with people we don’t know well, there is often an assumption that I watch because my husband watches,” Amanda says. “That’s definitely not true.”
“Women sometimes don’t understand why I love sports so much, but they always take me seriously,” says Mara. As for the men, they’re sometimes “skeptical,” but once they see how knowledgeable and enthusiastic she is, she’s welcomed into the fold.
“People are always saying ‘guys’ll love how into sports you are,’” says Mara, who is unmarried. “But I root for my teams for me, because I like it. It’s not to get guys’ attention or to seem cool. I genuinely enjoy sports. I consider myself a fan, not a female fan.”
4 – Fellow fans get it; advertisers and leagues still don’t
This was a hot-button topic with both women. While they don’t have much trouble comingling with other sports fans, the very institutions they’re spending so much money and time supporting often treat them as a side dish at best, and objects at worst.
“Advertisers, I think, often focus on men watching the game, and women dealing or wanting to drag their men away from it, and it’s really annoying,” says Amanda. “I am COMPLETELY over the pink-ification of the NFL and their ridiculous ploys to sell glittery/pink-washed merchandise to women. It often seems like they think if they slap some pink on an item, it will sell.”
Mara agreed: “There is more team apparel for women fans than ever before, but it’s still not equal to the amount or quality of men’s apparel. There is way too much emphasis on being a ‘sexy female fan.’ I just want to wear my teams’ colors when I root for them.”
The teams themselves are guilty of diminishing their women fans, too. Amanda name-dropped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in particular for making a big sexist mess of things, calling their new female fan group RED “a complete joke. It was focused on ‘game day style’ and ‘how to host a great tailgate,’ which, while I enjoy, have nothing to do with me watching football.”
5 – They don’t always like what they see
Not all is fair in love, war, or sports. Some of the high-profile issues plaguing professional and college sports, like the alarmingly high rate of domestic violence and concussion-related injuries, don’t escape these ladies’ notice. They both admit that things like this make it tough to continue being a fan.“Why should I support a team/corporation that doesn’t care about me as a woman in our society?” Mara rightly questions. Amanda is also quick to voice her frustration on the domestic violence issue: “I think [the NFL’s] response has been way too little, way too late. There have been times when my husband and I have seriously discussed altering our level of fandom, but we keep coming back to the point that if all the rational fans leave, the league will only get worse.”
In the end, each of them has decided that despite the issues on and off the field, they haven’t and won’t withdraw their support for their teams. Mara takes heart in the NFL’s recent “No More” campaign featuring big-name athletes taking a stand against violence and assault. And Amanda points out that for all the “bad seeds,” there are still plenty of Good Guys on the gridiron.
Besides, Mara adds, “Sports makes hypocrites of us all. You can hate a certain player on another team but if they started playing for your team you’d love them.”