Posted at 1:33 PM Aug 10, 2009By Andrea Grimes
Trouble is, I talk a big game when it comes to women's sports, because I rarely follow them unless something record-breaking happens. And when it comes to tennis and golf, which are probably the best publicized of any women's sports, well, they're just downright boring to me, no matter what sex is playing. But soccer--which I learned to love while living in England--and basketball, which is fast-paced and holler-worthy almost every time, ought to be great entry points for a potential ladysports fan like myself. So why don't women like me--and male sports fans, generally--follow women's sports?
That's a question asked by Mark Starr in the GlobalPost this weekend. The headline, "What's wrong with women's sports?" almost got my blood a-boiling. Because the last thing I need to read is some wanky male sports reporter talking about how women's sports deserve every ounce of non-attention they get because they're slow, boring, untalented, not surrounded by titty-beer commercials, etc. Instead, Starr makes the argument that it's not the athletes who are to blame, but the spectator culture (or lack thereof) surrounding them, which results in a lack of funding:
While women's sports boast an abundance of talent, they still lack a broad fan base. Too many male sports fans, still by far the dominant force in sports consumerism, regard women's sports as a marginal entertainment. Perhaps even more of a problem, the sports spectator culture among women hasn't kept pace with the participatory one.Indeed, I think I buy Starr's argument, at least on the surface (there are a number of mitigating factors, not least poor coverage of women's sports and underfunded programs). But the spectator question is key; even though I was always encouraged both to play and to watch sports as a kid, most girls I know were not.
Women don't seem to embrace the "couch potato" traditions -- and certainly not the label -- as readily as male fans. And though women attend sporting events in increasing numbers, girls' night out isn't as likely to include a women's soccer game or basketball game as boys' night out is a baseball or basketball game (and perhaps a second late game on the pub TV afterwards).
My folks, both of whom were really good athletes, set a pretty serious watching/playing example. (Especially my mother, who can still school just about anyone in basketball despite a bum knee.) I had the good fortune of having a mom who loves--and I mean loves--watching football and hockey. But my teammates' families? Oh, sure, Natalie's mom might make buffalo wings for the Super Bowl party or Jackie's mom would mix up some Final Four 'ritas, but those ladies were yammering in the kitchen while my mom was on the couch with the guys, following the game.
As a result, I find that I'm rarely motivated to instigate sports-watching among my female friends, because it's just not part of the repertoire. You get stuck in a rut--even if it's a good rut--of a certain group of activities (karaoke, road tripping, shopping, drinking, tubing, etc.) that are appropriate among your friends, and it's hard to branch out, regardless of your gender. People are hard to change, especially in groups.
Perhaps if we engendered a sense of spectator appreciation in little girls in addition to encouraging them to play, we could create the kind of rounded sports fan you so often see in men. And I think it's about time that women who do enjoy watching and playing sports--I'm looking at myself, here, because I've dropped the ball, as it were--took the lead in making athletic fandom as much a part of being a girl as high heels, cosmos and nail polish.