You know how Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld are “comedians,” while Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman are “female comedians?” Well, the same goes for sports fans. Guys are just plain ol’ sports fans, but for women, your gender is a qualifier.
In this arena (pardon the pun), men have the advantage of being taken seriously on face value when they engage in a conversation about sports. Even if you don’t watch religiously, it’s assumed that your knowledge is verified and opinions have merit. But any female fan knows she has to prove her worth. You’re guilty until proven innocent.
When you tell a guy you’re a football fan, rarely is your fandom accepted on the spot. Over the years, I’ve noticed that reactions to female fans tend to fall into one of three categories: shock, dismissal, or a quiz.
In regard to the “shock” reaction, I’ve been told by a gaped-jaw dude, “I’ve never met a girl who actually watched football every week.” He later asked me what division the Dolphins, his home team, were in. The shocked guy tends to be the most complimentary, but in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling good. I don’t want to be put on a “cool girl” pedestal for having slightly-higher-than-average football knowledge, I just want you to talk to me the same way you’d talk to a guy with my same qualifications. I especially don’t want you to use it as an excuse to put other girls down who don’t happen to be fans of our ultimately pointless hobby.
Then there are the dismissive types – the ones who want to make it clear to you that this conversation is not meant for you. They shoo you away with an attitude that says, “that’s cute, now leave the real analysis to the men.” By the way, these ones tend to have the most trash opinions. Avoid them.
Then, there’s my personal favorite: the quiz master! Here’s a real conversation I had last year with a waiter at a restaurant in Boston:
“Why are you wearing a Bills hat in Boston?”
“Because I’m from Buffalo and I’m a Bills fan.”
“Yeah? Who’s your favorite Bills player?”
“Eh, probably LeSean McCoy.”
“What position does he play?”
“Running back. Am I going to be graded on this quiz?”
“Who won the Super Bowl last year?”
“The Broncos. Dude, what’s your problem?”
“Who was the MVP?”
“And what position does he play?”
“OLB. Would you do this if I were a boy?”
“Your food will be out in a second.”
He stopped just short of asking me Peyton Manning’s blood type. When you’re met with the quiz master, you have two shitty choices. You can either refuse to engage, and let them assume you’re not up to the challenge, or answer the questions in an attempt to prove yourself. Sometimes they’ll stop after a few questions, and sometimes they’ll keep digging until they can stump you and restore their fragile masculinity to its original state. This is one of those daily annoyances that’s unique to women – see, the Dolphins fan who had no idea his home team was in the AFC East would never be forced to reveal this lack of basic knowledge among his male peers, because no one would think to quiz him. Women, on the other hand, have to study.
This is especially bothersome because fake fans and bandwagoners span the genders pretty equally. How many of your guy friends just recently became super passionate about the Seahawks or the Panthers? How many of them are ten times more concerned with their fantasy teams than their home teams? Again, though, the scrutiny tends to be skewed toward the lady-end of that spectrum. I’ve been asked during a home opener, “Are you actually going to watch every game or just this one, since it’s the first?” As if a fucking Buffalo Bills home opener is so much more exciting than the rest of their predictably mediocre season will end up being. This is the one I’m least able to accept, because I am anything but a bandwagon fan. I watch my awful team break my heart every single year and have never seen a single playoff game I was old enough to remember. And yet, when it’s Christmas Eve and 10 degrees and the Bills have a 2% chance of a playoff appearance, you’ll find me in Orchard Park, 6 beers deep before noon. I only *wish* I had the luxury of seeing a bandwagon sturdy enough to jump on.
What I want the skeptical bros to understand is that football is never just football. None of us watch purely for the mechanics of the game, although of course, that element can be pretty fun. But any longtime fan knows it’s about so much more. It’s about your hometown and feeling a common struggle with the people of your community, living and dying by what goes down on Sunday afternoon. It’s about tradition and watching the game with your Dad while you knock back a Franco’s pizza and fight over who gets to destroy the toilet first. It’s about friendships and shotgunning a dozen Labatt Blues with your high school buds at 9am in the stadium parking lot. None of these things are specific to men, but a lot of times, it can really feel that way.
Now, I can see how we’ve come to get used to this. Sports, and football especially, are targeted at men, who continue to make up a majority of their fanbase. But there are a lot of women out there who never miss a game, and many who just happen to watch with relative frequency like any other casual fan. When I’m studying with my female peers, the conversation often turns to football pretty damn quickly. With no dudes in the room, we’re arguing the legal merits of the Deflategate decision or rewatching the Butt Fumble in slow motion for a quick study break.
I must admit, I’m lucky to have some enlightened male friends who treat me like any other fan. They’ll Snapchat me from across the country to congratulate me on an unexpected Bills victory, or even better, send me an explicit text to talk shit about my beloved but pathetic home team. And my only hope for my fellow ladies is that the men in their lives can become comfortable enough with their fandom to be as rude to them as my friends are to me. That’s when you know you’ve made it.