If you were a trash person, you'd assume that women didn't like sports and that, as Men's Health Magazine indicates, we only follow them if there's "a story line." Your argument, if you were made of trash, would be that women can't understand statistics or they don't have attention spans long enough to sit through a game, or they'd rather be somewhere else—maybe the kitchen, constructing a towering snack stadium* for you with individual pretzel sticks to be dislodged by your garbage hands. If you were a trash person, you'd need this structure to stay intact in order for your boys club to prosper and for you to continue feeling protective of your world, where, if a women were granted access, all its small, carefully laid pieces might get disrupted. The Slim Jim goalpost would get picked apart in seconds, by hungry, ravenous fans. That goalpost, and the other one—well, those were saved for you, the trash person, to eat. You guard your snack stadium like a king watching his castle because hell, those moat alligators were expensive and they're keeping all your secrets safe, safe from the women who are already swimming there.
For the sake of this exercise, though, let's say you're not garbage. You're a plain anybody, with no grievances to air and no snack stadiums that can't be built through your very own architectural blueprints. You're just here for the game. You don't care who else watches, as long as they keep quiet, to a reasonable degree. You love sports. That's all you really care about. When the snack stadium is all gone, the resulting feeling of sadness isn't about the decimation of the precious structure. It's about your team losing, a loss you feel heavily because you just love sports, which, like all easily consumable entertainments, are intended to equalize.
Maybe you are a woman. Because, outside the world of pieces about the daunting challenge of getting women to watch sports—in the actual world—women watch sports. In 2008, when I went to my regular bar game after game to watch the Phillies play in their first World Series in 15 years, no one looked at me funny, or at the blonde friend from Connecticut who came with me, because we were women. The bar was packed with people whose names we didn't know, whose careers we didn't care about, whose families we'd never met. We formed excitable bonds with them, because we all understood everyone wanted the win. Who had time to take tabs on gender when the most important game of our lives was about to go into the rain delay?
The next night, my friend and I watched the three remaining innings of the rain-delayed game at her apartment, with champagne. It didn't matter how we watched it. Like normal fans of sports, we wanted to see our team win. We neglected to make snacks.
During the World Cup this year—a tournament that some might say by dint of its name and participants is intended to include everyone—I wrote about soccer because I, like many women, enjoy watching sports. When I wrote about soccer from a place of exuberance over the opportunity to watch sometimes three games a day, pedants started the slow troll, picking away at my "fandom." Luckily the US was out before anyone got under my skin, but the irritation remains: why does every fan have to be an expert? Or, more specifically, why does every expert have to be a man?
I was lucky to grow up with a family who were sports fanatics but not pedants or douchebags, meaning if I didn't care about that year's Super Bowl, or if my mom slowly started to learn what the infield fly rule was after years of consuming baseball, there'd be no judgments either way. People in my family are normal sports fans who, if a snack stadium was put in front of us, we'd all go dipping with tortilla chips at the same time.
I idolized my brother my entire life even though we always had different interests. He grew out of video games and obsessed over sports. I quit lacrosse to pursue music. He was upset when I quit lacrosse, because he thought I was getting good. I was dragged along to trading card shops, signings at the mall, and I'd watch his friends play street hockey. I stubbornly observed my brother hone his interests without ever committing to them myself. When I went to college in New York, talking about, watching, and communicating with sports was something I deeply missed among effete, literary New Yorkers, so I invested in the thing I grew up dismissing: I started to watch a lot of sports.
I couldn't count in a lifetime how many stories I've heard of dads who infused love of sports into their sons, told directly from the son's adult mouth. Learning to appreciate my brother's love for sports had been a subconscious way for me to get to know him better, and just like a kid's desire to take on or reject their parents' interests, there was nothing illegitimate about that. Despite what we want to believe, no one was born wearing a Red Sox jersey.
In 2008, my brother and I went to a Phillies NLCS game together. When I cried at our 2009 World Series loss, or when I secretly watched the 2004 Eagles Super Bowl with two female friends, or when I joined the Frisbee team senior year of high school just so I could smoke weed on the sidelines, or when the first crush I ever had was on Ryan Giggs, or when I dragged two friends to a FC Sporting match when we were on a road trip through Portugal, no one ever asked me if I was satisfied with "the story line." It was always about just enjoying the game, through whatever means possible.
Here's how you watch sports with women: Build an enormous snack stadium with cheese balls, hoagies, corn dogs, guacamole, and three-layer dip in the middle and you—a normal person who just loves sports and wants to share that love with everyone, whether they're informed, fanatical, or just casually interested—well, you let her have a fucking bite.
*The author would like to apologize for the use of the snack stadium extended metaphor. She thought the only way you'd understand this piece is if you had a consistent story line to follow.
[Image by Jim Cooke]