A few weeks ago, I got an email from a reader named Marla Siegel. I know we have a lot of female readers and Colts fans, and I always enjoy hearing their perspective on things. I've asked Marla to give us all some insight into what it's like for a woman who is also a die-hard football fan. It's harder than you think!Girl Power…Outage? Football-Indifferent Females Don’t Always Get Us:
I’ve never been one of those noble, ‘suffer in silence’ types. Honestly, I’m more of a ‘let’s wallow in our shared anguish over Nutella-dipped Oreos’ kind of girl. So after discovering the hard way one morning this past February that even the tastiest Java Chip Frappuccino becomes too salty for consumption when mixed with gallons of bitterly shed tears, I ventured over to my best friend’s apartment for a super-sized dose of the support she could always be counted on to provide.
“You look absolutely hideous,” my best friend greeted. She then offered tissues, Visine and an eagerness to mercilessly mock whichever guy had sent me spiraling into meltdown mode. You see, as much as my friend and I prided ourselves on having lots of goals and interests and passions that were not dependent on our dating lives (or, er, lack thereof), she assumed based on experience that heartbreak of this magnitude could only mean that I had the boy-related blues.
I hastened to explain that I was sobbing over not just one man, but approximately 53 of them. And when that many oversized men trample over your fangirl dreams of vicarious Super Bowl glory, you’re going to be left flattened and crushed. In the interest of maintaining the family-friendly standards of this blog, I’ll spare you my friend’s expletive-laden response. Suffice it to say, though, that this generally empathic friend could muster only chilly bewilderment. How could she not understand why I was emotionally demolished over…well, over ‘a bunch of random men I’d never met losing a game?’
Okay, so maybe I could understand how my reaction might be seen as a tad extreme when viewed from an objective and rational perspective. But, as many of us know all too well, fandom is neither objective nor rational. My friend, oblivious to the vicarious roller coaster of thrills and devastation that fandom provides, simply didn’t get it.
As I curled up on her sofa, still trying to choke back tears while gory images of Tracey Porter’s game-sealing interception pranced tauntingly through my mind, it occurred to me that very few of my friends or even family members did truly get it. And, to be fair, I didn’t understand the bizarre nature of my fandom much better than they did. Why did I care so much? Why did the people in my life with whom I had otherwise had so much in common care so little? And to what extent did my gender somehow alter my experience as a fan and how others perceived and reacted to it? Did the fact that I’m female mean that the reasons for and manifestations of my fandom were in any way different than those of my Y-chromosone-carrying counterparts?
Not All Men Will Get You Either (But, In The Infamous Words of Meatloaf, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad):
Because I hadn’t yet discovered the affirming, ‘you-love-what-I-love-and-hate-what-I-hate’ comfort of cyber-communities like this one, I set off for a local bar in search of those answers. (And, well, maybe also in search of a couple cocktails---insert obligatory Purple Drank joke here---with which to drown my Colts-related sorrows). The thing about bars, or at least the admittedly lowbrow ones I hang out in, is that they tend to feature sports-related programming blaring nonstop in the background. Those inescapable post-Super Bowl clips and recaps were like pouring an entire ocean’s worth of salt into my gaping wounds; and also further proof that ESPN, with the hopeful exception of the charmingly candid Paul Kuharsky, totally hates me. A few guys happened to notice me wincing, and politely inquired as to the source of my discomfort. These three guys reacted to my ever-so-attractive sniffling and whimpering over Indy’s defeat with a little more understanding than my female friend had, as they happened to be sports fans themselves. In retrospect, though, each of the three also conveniently represented one of the common male reactions to female football fanaticism that I’ve encountered:
- And with the first pick in my personal draft, I select…:
This guy just loves yammering merrily on about football with absolutely anyone who’ll pretend to listen. If no human is able or willing to oblige, he’s the guy who tries gamely to share his random NFL opinions with inanimate objects, like the remote control or his perpetually empty beer mug. He’s not particularly deterred when they don’t respond. He doesn’t care about your gender; it’s quite possible he doesn’t even notice it. If he does eventually pick up on the fact that you’re shaped and sized differently than most of his male sports buddies, he’ll confide how psyched he is to have found an “awesomely guy-like woman” who’d rather gush about the game than those screechy shoe-obsessed shrews from Sex in the City.
Easily recognizable characteristics: hasn’t taken off his favorite player’s jersey since purchasing it sometime back during Bush’s first term; overreliance on goofy sports metaphors, which he enjoys awkwardly wedging into nearly every sentence of the conversation; a cheerful but intense passion for the game that makes you feel validated in your own wacko obsession.
- I’ll need to see your Wonderlic score before we can proceed…:
This guy admits, albeit a little reluctantly, that he thinks it’s cool you know a bit about sports. He’s just overly concerned with making sure that bit you know isn’t any bigger than the bit he knows. He refuses to let even your most basic football-related observation go by unchallenged (“but, statistically speaking, can the Colts’ pass rush be considered genuinely elite or merely a step above adequate?”) After your first five comments are dissected and parsed to the extreme, you start to wonder whether this conversation is more tiresome and headache-inducing than it’s worth. However, you can’t help but respect this guy once you figure out where he’s coming from: he truly cherishes and values the game. To him, football fandom is a special fraternity of which he’s proud to be a part, and he feels obliged to make sure you’re worthy of membership. After you’ve taken those first tentative steps towards gaining his trust by proving you can even, say, distinguish between a quarterback and a cornerback, this guy may start to solicit and value your input. Like that long-elusive Lombardi trophy we finally secured in 2007, winning over finicky fans like this is an arduous but ultimately rewarding challenge.
Easily recognizable characteristics: a penchant for tossing out obscure statistics and historical factoids even when they’re not necessarily relevant to the conversation; frequent references to his own blog, on which he alternately impresses and depresses his readers with 100,000 word scholarly analyses of any and all minor facets of the game; and a confession, usually after his third scotch, that he’s been burned before by phony female football fans who’ve turned out to love the idea of donning a cutesy little pink Romo jersey a la Jessica Simpson far more than the actual on-field action.
- Can’t you and your never-played-the-game self just stick to cooking me up some artery-clogging halftime snacks?
To this guy, there are women and there are sports fanatics, and the idea of these two demographic categories overlapping disrupts his antiquated view of how the world should be. He’s the one who says “So you REALLY like football that much, huh? Really? Is there, like, a reason for that or…?” about three different times before he gives up trying to converse with you at all, opting to merely scowl and shake his head a few dozen times instead. He thinks maybe your love for football means you’re less ‘feminine’, and has been known to make unfunny cracks about “certain chicks” running a little low on estrogen that makes everyone else within ear shot cringe even as he laughs uproariously at his own devilish wit. His own appreciation for the game is as shallow as a kiddie pool: he views weekly football games primarily as an excuse to amp up his beer consumption, shout at a higher decibel than usual and dream up derogatory nicknames for players on the opposing teams. However, he’s generally forgotten all about the game within a few minutes of its conclusion. The ultimate outcome---and the various little triumphs and defeats that occur within every match-up---don’t hold much interest for him. And, as a woman who dares to love football more than what he deems properly ‘girly’ pursuits like shopping, baking and maybe hair braiding, you interest him even less.
Fortunately, as females continue to make a great impact on the sports world as participants, journalists and fans, this sort of gender-biased cluelessness is becoming mercifully obsolete.
Easily recognizable characteristics: He dislikes you. It’s visceral and immediate. He lacks both the ability and desire to mask his contempt. You can also identify this type by the fact that he spends large chunks of every football game insinuating with the subtlety of a jackhammer that every fan and player on the opposing team is---har dee har har---homosexual. Even the guys stuck hanging out with him start to edge their bar stools farther and farther away until they’re barely within shouting distance by halftime.
Beneath those Shoulder Pads, We See Your Soul:
So maybe some people react differently to female football fanatics than to our male counterparts. But is there also anything qualitatively distinct about the reasons why some of us females develop and maintain this pigskin passion in the first place? (Disclaimer Alert: Please bear in mind that these suggestions, and in fact the vast majority of what’s written throughout this entire piece, are based purely on my own observations and anecdotal experiences; not some lofty claim to a general and objective truth):
I’ve noticed that my female football fanatics and I tend to have a keener interest in the lives and personalities of the men who don those helmets. Being an awesome player isn’t necessarily enough to earn our hard won fangirl devotion; we like them to be awesome people as well. Believing that these men possess attributes we value and admire serves to validate the amount of time and emotional energy we devote to supporting the team. Personally, I’ve developed a knack for twisting even the most commonplace, unremarkable anecdotes about my favorite players into ‘evidence’ that they’re pillars of humility, integrity, and general awesomeness. Sometimes, with players I’m especially predisposed to like and admire, even the absence of bad behavior is enough to endear me. (Wait, so you mean he hit the brakes when he saw that old lady trying to cross the street rather than, say, impatiently running right over her with his SUV? He must be a saint! I KNEW I was justified in revering this guy!)
Female fans often enjoy delving into a player’s perceived psychological makeup and personality as much as they do his stats and freakish on-field athleticism. Jeffri Chadiha’s in-depth, brilliantly written 2009 piece on how Dallas Clark’s spirit and resiliency enabled him to overcome adversity has permanently solidified Dallas’s spot at the very top of my personal ‘Favorite Colts Player Ever’ list more than a season’s worth of game-salvaging plays ever could. Of course, lest Dallas let this honor go to his impossibly adorable and seemingly humble head, I should note here that this FCPE list is neither particularly difficult to secure a place on (do you not completely suck both on and off the field? Are you not named Mike Vanderjagt? You made the cut!) nor too hard to move up on (Pierre Garcon and Robert Mathis both recently earned substantial promotions due purely to their prompt and kind responses to two of my Tweets…nice work, boys!) The point being that I---and the few other female football fanatics I’m lucky enough to know---love feeling that kind hearts beat beneath those perfectly sculpted chests. Which is my awkward segue into chatting about….
A Different Kind of ‘Fantasy’ Football:
I’m a little hesitant to dwell on the drool-worthy attractiveness of some of the players here, because I really don’t want to reinforce the stereotype that female fans appreciate the sight of obscenely muscular men tackling one another to the ground more than they appreciate the game itself. But today’s modern, multi-tasking woman can focus on strategic Xs and Os while simultaneously taking in the game’s more delightfully shallow pleasures. And consider the qualities possessed by most of the NFL players who play at an elite level: talent, passion, intensity, and a uniquely focused energy and determination (the kind that highlights just how lazy people like I am by contrast). Those are all very attractive traits, and it’s unsurprising that we might be attracted to men who possess more than their share. Wearing those sinfully tight pants that leave precious little to our fertile imaginations is just a bonus.
As the NFL Turns:
If you’re looking to convert new female football fanatics (and please do…I get lonely!), one of the more successful strategies involves stressing the degree to which the NFL is filled with as much compelling human drama and scandal as the daytime soaps, Emmy-winning dramedies and “reality” shows sitting at the top of many TiVo priority lists. Every season, we’re treated to a handful of underdogs triumphing over the odds; a continuous cycle of player-team battles, breakups and the occasional harmonious reconciliation; the development of intra-team bonding or strife and the renewal of respectful (or less respectful and therefore juicier) inter-team rivalries. New and often unexpected superstars will emerge even as former greats confront the painful realization that their time in the league is at an end. (And it’s even more painful when the past-their-prime players in question don’t realize it’s time to hang up their cleats, but that’s for another post). Those potential female football fans who never grew out of their fondness for ‘bad boys’ can take heart in knowing that a couple of players can always be counted on to get themselves arrested or, even more hilariously embarrassing, on TMZ.
You know how being a fan is exhilarating, difficult and somehow more simultaneously draining and rewarding than you expected it to be? Well, that perfectly describes my experience writing this piece. If even a single line amused or resonated with one reader, then I’ll consider my rookie appearance here a genuine success.