Sexism in sports fandoms

Shae Slaughter

I was born and raised a Detroit Lions fan, and let me tell you, it’s been a long 21 years. I was also raised a University of Michigan fan, so at least my life hasn’t been a total disappointment. 

For as long as I can remember, I had a jersey in my closet for some professional sports team. I’d throw it on whenever my family went to a game. I loved painting my face and cheering loudly when I was little, and I love doing so now, too. 

Here’s the catch: I was raised primarily by my mother, and I grew up with two sisters. My love of sports came from them. That’s a lot of estrogen in one house, but that didn’t stop Sunday Night Football from showing up on the TV every week. My mom encouraged my love of sports, and I didn’t know there was any other way to be. I played soccer with the boys at recess instead of sitting on the tire swing with the girls. It was fun, and I liked the competition.

As I grew older, my eyes focused in on basketball, one of the true loves of my life. ESPN’s “SportsCenter” became my favorite program during high school, and I loved watching every game that was played. It was then that I began to realize my adoration for sports seemed odd to some people. It appeared there was a lot of judgement passed around for a girl who was a little too much of a “jock.” 

When I started relaying the newest Miami Heat lineup to my male classmates, they questioned me and pushed back. They seemed to think there was no way some girl was going to outsmart them at basketball. I never pretended to know it all. I’m not an ESPN analyst, after all. 

However, I knew the game, the rules, the strategy, the players and all of the important details, yet I was often treated as ornamental during my discussion of a game that I loved. This attitude didn’t stop after high school, though, as I see it follow me now during my adult life as well. 

A few years ago, I was at work when I commented on a basketball discussion taking place between my male coworkers. I received a dumbfounded look, and I plainly replied with, “What? I know basketball.” 

This simple statement made one of my coworkers feel the need to quiz me, as if I were lying: “Oh, yeah? How is the game split up? Quarters, halves, periods?” I felt annoyed at this trivial question, and I answered by flipping the question around, saying, “Do you mean in high school, college or the NBA?” All of the levels have different answers, and even this girl knew that. 

It seems that whenever a woman mentions her affinity for sports, she is questioned. Some of these questions are ridiculously easy and some are obnoxiously hard. Yes, I know there are four quarters in an NBA basketball game. No, I don’t know who the fourth-string center from the ‘98 Boston Celtics team was; why would I?

The problem is that this attitude has no real basis in today’s society. We have plenty of women who are professional athletes or work for ESPN or play basketball. Their gender does not diminish their ability to love the game, or to know the game, for that matter. 

Sure, I’ll play sports like a girl, and I’ll watch sports like a girl, because that’s what I am. But just know I’m still in the game.