My wife is a sports fan. Together, we have cheered from the stands at college football games and track meets, for local minor-league baseball clubs and hockey teams. We’ve spent Sunday afternoons watching the National Football League, October nights watching the World Series, and summer afternoons watching the World Cup. We once waited in line for hours for tickets to the national college basketball tournament, and another time we awoke in the early-morning darkness, while living in Europe, to watch the live broadcast of the Olympic hockey final. She has cheered, groaned, jumped from her seat in excitement, and slumped in despair. But now, after lifetime of following sports, she has declared that her days as a fan are coming to an end. What has brought this turn away from sports? It’s not the outrageous salaries or loutish behavior of athletes. It’s not scandals or cheating or excess. It’s her sons—our sons. At ages 14 and 11, our boys talk sports constantly. And they talk in obsessive detail, like typical males: statistics, standings, predictions, post-game analyses, historical debates, and hypothetical speculations. For my wife, who has been an athlete and a fan since childhood, the incessant talk is more than she can bear.
My wife’s dilemma is common to female sports fans. As Andy Markovits and Emily Albertson explain in their new book, female fans think and talk about sports in a vastly different way than do male fans. Even the most avid women fans, whom Andy and Emily call “sportistas,” do not debate potential transfer signings, or recite from memory the announcer’s call from a classic match, or quiz each other on starting lineups from decades ago. Unfortunately, however, women who follow sports find that male fans use these kinds of conversations as an entrance requirement to their circle. “You don’t know who hit the winning home run in the 1960 World Series! How can you be a REAL fan?!!” Yet, even when a woman does know the name Bill Mazeroski, she still is not accepted. Instead, the male fan sees her as a threat.
Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States (Temple University Press, 2012) looks at the barriers that women fans face as they follow sports. Andy and Emily discuss the different ways that males and females talk about and consume sports and the roots of those differences. Their conclusions, based on interviews with women fans and sports journalists, match what my wife has discovered in our household. For her, sports are drama and entertainment and a spectacle of human accomplishment. For our sons, sports is life.