“Man I wish I had a penis. Apparently without one I will never understand sports.”
My best friend sent me that text one Sunday night. Without even asking, I knew exactly why she was sending me that message.
My best friend is easily one of the biggest, most die-hard hockey fans I know. There are few people who can make a hockey game as entertaining she can. Donning her Chris Kelly shirt (and a full arsenal of reasons why the Bruins need to treat Kelly with more respect), you can expect a night of high energy, hollering, and frighteningly accurate game predictions.
You can also expect at least one person in the room to not take her seriously.
Some nights, it’s the surly old man at the bar who insists on calling her “little girl”. Other nights, it’s the bro-dude who would use terms like “off-sides” and “icing” interchangeably, constantly attempting to discredit her reasons for watching (side note for those playing the home game: “off-sides” and “icing” are not the same thing). Without fail, someone will assume she’s faking her fanaticism; that she’s only shouting at the refs because she’s looking for attention.
Pink Hatter. It’s a gnarly term in Boston for female sports fans who must obviously be pretending. Originally created to describe fake Red Sox fans (who were supposedly identifiable by their pink baseball cap), the term has spread to include any Boston woman who might even potentially not like a sport as much as she lets on. The sports world also has the term Puck Bunny to describe fake female hockey fans.
My sport of choice is mixed martial arts, which I go after with an obsessiveness that rivals my best friend’s obsessiveness with hockey. While there isn’t really any term for fake female MMA fans, the knee-jerk skepticism when some find out I’m a fan is almost identical.
Some nights, I might have people constantly speaking over and interrupting me, assuming I don’t have anything of worth to say about the sport. Other nights, I might be given a nasty, misogynistic reply as a way to shut me up (my personal favorite being, “don’t you have Barbies to play with or something?”). I’ve watched as people who would use terms like “guillotine choke” and “rear-naked choke” interchangeably attempt to discredit my reasons for watching (side note for those playing the home game: they’re not the same thing).
Are there fake female sports fans? Are there women in this world who overstate their love of sports for acceptance? Of course there are. Just like there are men in this world who overstate (or downright fake) their love of sports for acceptance. The only difference is that a man can walk into a bar with a Patriots jersey on without anyone immediately assuming he’s lying.
So let’s say you’re at a bar, a party, a small get-together, and you find out that at least one of the women in your general vicinity is a sports fan. It doesn’t matter if its baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, MMA, boxing, rugby… somehow the conversation shifts towards her enjoyment of whatever sport. Here’s a quick list of ways to handle this new female sports fan in your life.
1. Don’t automatically assume she’s lying for attention. Think of every other interaction in your life. Do you go in automatically assuming everyone is lying? Unless your name is Dr. Gregory House (you’re welcome, people who watched TV 2004 – 2012), probably not. When you meet a guy for the first time and he mentions he’s a Packers fan, do you automatically assume he’s fibbing to fit in? If the answer is, “No,” then don’t do it to your female counterparts.
2. Don’t grill her as a way to disprove her. If I had a dime for every time I witnessed or was the direct recipient of a, “Oh, you’re a fan of X? Well, tell me, then: tell me the [obscure statistic about a player, a season, a coach].” You wouldn’t do that to a male fan: the assumption is that they’re “real” fans by default and you don’t feel a need for them to prove anything. It really doesn’t matter if she can or cannot answer the question. The fact that you immediately went on the offensive shows a supreme lack of respect.
3. Remember that there was someone who had introduced you to your sports, too. I was introduced to MMA in college by the man who would eventually become my husband. My best friend got into hockey thanks to her father. Some people love to latch on to information like that and use it as an alternative means of discrediting, forgetting that there are few people in this world who wake up one morning and go, “You know, I think I will become a fan of some random sport!” Maybe it was your dad who got you into it. Maybe it was a coach in school. Maybe it was your group of friends. It really doesn’t matter. There is no righteous path to fandom. Everyone gets into what they’re into through their own avenues and in their own time.
4. Remember that it’s okay if she’s wearing pink. While I’m frustrated with pink being the go-to way manufacturers try to market anything to women, I would never deny anyone their right to wear the colors they’d like. And that includes pink. So what if her jersey is pinkified? Are you really going to get on her for her personalized way of supporting her team, all the while ignoring the guy to the left of you who got, “YAAA DUDE” embroidered on the back of his jersey, in place of a player’s name?
5. Understand the statistics. Upwards of 45% of sports fans are women. To assume most of them are lying for the attention is asinine. To assume that every single one of them is lying for the attention is downright problematic. The female audience is rapidly expanding across the board, and it’s not because we’re all looking for attention.
Sports speaks to the competitor, the strategist, the athlete in all of us. A game tells its own story of triumph and tragedy. It’s a way for all of us to come together over common ground. So why divide it up because of lingering, outdated attitudes? The sports world is no longer just a boys’ club. No specific genitalia required to properly enjoy the game.