Category Archives: Sports

Decoding the Emotional Woman Sports Fan narrative

I am a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a bad sports fan. Sure, there are sports fans who are bad people, but the act of supporting a sports team isn’t something that can be policed. Maybe you watch every game, memorize every stat, and can list the team’s starting goalie from 1964 to today, or maybe you just watch every once in awhile because you think a player is cute. In both situations, and every situation in between, you are contributing to that team’s popularity and success, and that makes you a fan.

I don’t really have a lot of problems convincing people that I’m a “real” sports fan anymore. I watch as many games as I can, and even if I don’t, I get enough live updates from social media and news outlets to form a decently logical opinion. I also can dress myself in literally an entire outfit, shirt-pants-socks-slippers, of entirely Penguins gear. I’ve more than earned my spot at the table.

Recently, I’ve noticed a different kind of fan discrimination. There seems to be a clear dichotomy between the idea of a “real” sports fan – ie, someone who pays attention to performance, stats, and numbers, versus the portrait of a more casual, less serious sports fan who is invested in the player as a person. This “emotional” sports fan knows personal facts about the athlete through their public presence on social media, in interviews, and in the press. And much like the idea of the “real” versus “bandwagon” sports fan, the latter is mainly used as a way to invalidate and exclude women sports fans.

I remember being portrayed as what I’ve termed an emotional sports fan from the beginning. As a 13 year old girl who supported the Pittsburgh Penguins, the “joke” was always that I watched the games because I thought Sidney Crosby was cute. And yeah, he is! But it’s silly to think that I watched 82 games a year just to try and catch a glimpse of Sid’s face behind his mask on a blurry television feed. And so I vehemently denied, denied, denied any attraction to the Captain, desperate to prove myself as one of the boys, one of the real sports fans.

But, in reality, I did find myself interested in the player’s life off the ice. In fact, the very thing that made me start watching hockey in the first place was HBO’s Road to the Winter Classic documentary, which highlighted the personal lives of the players alongside the drama on the ice. The communities of (predominantly women) sports fans that I associated with also developed an interest in the lives of athletes off the ice. My friends and I joked about their bad Instagram captions and questionable choices in clothing, and, yes, we knew exactly which model they were dating. We liked hearing the gossip. It was fun to be a fan in this way, especially because being an “emotional” sports fan did not prevent me from also being a “rational” sports fan. I still know and appreciate the rules of the game, as well as what my favorite players are posting on Twitter. It’s not mutually exclusive.

But my life as an emotional sports fan continued to serve as my dirty little secret. I remember during the past Olympics when NBC tried to justify broadcasting the Games on tape delay by arguing that women viewers preferred emotional stories to the sports themselves. It’s still a terrible, sexist statement that portrays women as 1) Not Real Sports Fans, 2) Emotional beings who prefer dramatic reality shows to real life, and 3) Incapable of being both emotional and rational fans. It’s a really great example of the Emotional Sports Fan myth in action. But I remember my immediate reaction being a desperation to distance myself from these female emotional sports fans, and again I overcompensated, practically yelling to anyone who would listen that YES, I, THE REAL SPORTS FAN, WOULD WATCH EVEN WITH CARDBOARD CUTOUTS IN PLACE OF THE ATHLETES, #FORTHELOVEOFTHEBEAUTIFULGAME. Even out of my awkward teen phase and secure in my above-average sports knowledge, I was still desperate to prove that I wasn’t one of those sports fans, not one of those fangirls.

But I’m now, finally, coming to the realization that the emotional sports fan is a continuation of the mythology that women are less than because of their inability to control their emotions, and that young women in particular are so irrational, so emotional, so hormonal that their interests and beliefs are laughably unworthy of consideration. Teen girls are too crazy and emotional to know real music, so we dismiss their favorite musicians. And when those teen girls – actually, those fangirls come to support the same team that we do, we brush them aside as being too crazy and emotional to be real fans. And this narrative is repeated ad nauseam whenever teen girls express interest in anything from Snapchat filters to coffee shops. Whatever they like and whatever they do is considered beneath us. So many female sports fans are so desperate to prove ourselves as not being one of those girls that we abandon ourselves and the women around us so we can be validated by men.

And to those who would paint me as an emotional sports fan, I have two things to consider. First, we must realize that there is no purely unemotional way to watch sports.  We watch sports because of the way they make us feel, even if that feeling is simply rest and reprieve after a long day at work. Sports fans and athletes display emotions of anger, sadness, and joy at all points of the season without having their legitimacy as a fan questioned. And even the most by-the-book fans use meaningless buzzwords like “grit” and “character” to evaluate athletes, which are ultimately the result of an emotional analysis of a player’s attitudes and behaviors. In fact, a lot of these “character” evaluations are based on, you guessed it, gossip! Finally, think back to why you became a sports fan. So many of us are attracted to sports because of particularly charismatic or impressive athletes, like Derek Jeter, Lebron James, or Serena Williams. It’s this emotional connection that draws us to sports in the first place, that encourages us to spend the rest of our lives having our emotional state dependent on the outcome of a game. Why are these emotional expressions of sports fandom considered more valid than those of the emotional sports fan? Why do we hate on teenage girls, who check social media accounts and team videos as a part of being a fan, when their core motivation for these actions is the same as the actions of any other sports fan?

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with the uniquely female interpretation of being an emotional sports fan. Examining an athlete’s public portrayal (social media platforms, interviews, the way they conduct themselves in public) is not a bad thing, in fact, it helps me and other women to be better fans. I cannot separate on-ice performance from off-ice conduct, nor should I. If an athlete thinks social media is an appropriate place to make sexist “jokes” that perpetuate rape culture, or if they think it’s appropriate to make jokes about smallpox blankets, or if they demonstrate abusive behavior, I have a right to know so I can stop supporting them. I can’t control who gets to become a professional athlete, but I can control the name on the back of my jersey. I can keep myself from perpetuating the idolization of certain athletes. I do not have to support athletes who do not respect my basic humanity or the basic humanity of those I love. Being an emotional sports fan who is aware of an athlete’s personal life helps me to remain a fan only of those who deserve my fandom. Sure, I know a lot of useless facts about professional athletes too, but is memorizing Corsi any more useful?

Identifying as a woman while being a sports fan is not easy, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from my writings #onhere. Professional sports are inherently unequal and therefore inherently unwelcoming to women and other underrepresented groups.The stereotype of the Emotional Sports Fan is yet another narrative created by men to try and police the actions of women in the sports world. But we as women do not need to meet male expectations in order to be valid. My fellow female sports fans – the next time you see the Emotional Sports Fan narrative in action, call it out. We have a right to enjoy ourselves how we see fit, no matter what men think of it. And most importantly, let’s all personally vow to stop shaming other female sports fans, ourselves included, for displaying behaviors associated with the emotional sports fan! We must fight for an equality that doesn’t come at the expense of other women. After all, who else is going to admire a good-looking playoff beard with us?

 

 

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Rant of the Day: An open letter to the cancer teammate

*dons baby boomer glasses* What is it with kids these days and joining things that they aren’t committed to?

Seriously.

It seems like the sports teams in my life have all been afflicted with an ugly case of apathy. Since entering high school, it seems like every upcoming class of freshman has gotten more and more lazy. I thought it was just a swim team thing, encouraged by an easygoing coach who had no rules and lots of cookies. However, this year, my friends on the cross country team have noticed the same issue. Girls are joining the team only to cut miles during practice and walk during actual races. It’s the same deal on the swim team – tons of girls join, skip practice, and can’t be bothered to do the actual workout when they care to show up.

What’s wrong with people?

So you, lazy, unmotivated teammate – this one’s for you. This is my open letter to the cancer teammate.

A commitment is a commitment. It involves responsibility, selflessness, and time management. It’s one thing to have to miss a practice every once in a while for personal reasons, like a doctor’s appointment or a family gathering. But no one has enough personal issues to warrant only showing up to practice once a week. That’s ridiculous. Rule of thumb: don’t commit to something if you aren’t positive that you can fully devote yourself to being the best you can be. Of course, you should do this for your coaches and teammates but most importantly for yourself. You are valuable. You only have so much time to spend on this earth. Why spend it being mediocre at something? Why spend it half-assing a practice? That makes no sense. Everyone should strive to be the best. If you can’t find that passion, that desire within you, perhaps making a commitment isn’t for you.

This is an issue bigger than yourself. Think about how many people are involved with just one sports team. Your coaches, your manager, your captain, your whole team, the mom who makes sandwiches before every game, your parents, the girl who offers to drive you to practice – that’s a lot of people. Don’t waste their time, either. It’s disrespectful. Your coach doesn’t need to show up to practice or to spend HER time writing workouts just for YOU. Believe it or not, coaching pays next to nothing despite being a hugely influential and important career. What if your coach started cutting corners like you did? You would be upset, right? You would feel like you’d been cheated? Well, that’s probably how your coach feels when she finds out that you can’t even respect her enough to put forth the most minimal amount of effort possible. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for them. They care when you don’t. And if you can’t respect and appreciate that, well, you shouldn’t be a part of a team.

Finally, think about your teammates. Your captain. The people who stay after practice for hours, refining that one technique that will make them just half a second faster. The devoted, the dedicated, the hard-working. We hate teammates like you, to be honest. You take up space on the bus, in the locker room, in the pool. We would kill to be your age again just for another shot at being the best and taking advantage of every opportunity we can find. It kills us to see you wasting time at practice because someday, you will want to be the best, but you won’t be able to because of all that lost time. Not to mention, your sour attitude brings down the whole team. No matter how hard we try, we still here your “I don’t want to” “Let’s take this one easy” and “Let’s skip this last one”, and it sticks in our head and messes with our psyche. Sports are a mental game, too, and you hurt your teammates with your negativity. And, of course, when you goof off at practice or lose big at the meet, we also have to suffer those punishment workouts even though we don’t deserve them.

So, in conclusion – what’s wrong with you people? Why are you here? Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s on something you don’t care about. It’s that simple. Don’t be a jerk. Quit the team, or better yet, don’t sign up in the first place.

All my best,
The annoyed teammate

Addition through subtraction

The PIttsburgh Penguins went in to Free Agent Frenzy with eleven UFAs, and so far none of them have been resigned.

Which is probably a good thing.

brooks

Various NHL teams have offered some tragically laughable contracts for former Penguins. Joe Vitale, who had 14 points in 53 games this past season, was given a 3 year deal from the Arizona Coyotes with an AAV of $1.117 million. That’s a little under $80,000 per point. Wow.

Later, the New York Rangers acquired fourth liner Tanner Glass, who also had an underwhelming last season with just 13 points in 67 games, to a three-year, $4.53 million deal.

But the ugliest contract given to a former Penguin award would have to go to the division rival Washington Capitals. Defenseman Brooks Orpik had an often unpredictable season after he was concussed and attacked by Bruins’ Shawn Thornton. Most games, he was just downright awful. Naturally, the Capitals awarded him with a five year, $27.5 million contract. Orpik will be 38 years old when the deal is finished.

So, yeah, the Penguins may have dodged a bullet or three there.

In the meantime, Rutherford made some key acquisitions. He added a fourth-line right winger in Blake Comeau (1 yr, 700k AAV). The team gets all the more German with goalie Thomas Griess (1 yr, 1mil AAV) and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (1 yr, 4mil AAV). Griess will serve as a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury. Considering that Jeff Zatkoff was not supposed to be our backup this past season, Griess is a great move. He will allow Zatkoff more time to develop in Wilkes-Barre. Ehrhoff adds depth and experience to the defense, which will need more bodies after losing Orpik and Niskanen. He’ll likely serve on the power play unit as well. Ehrhoff’s leadership will be valuable as Derrick Pouliot and Simon Despres move up to the show.

Former Penguin Jussi Jokinen signed in Florida with former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. And now, we wait to see where Matty “$$$” Niskanen will receive his payout.

2014 NHL Draft: Boooooooo

I spent the weekend at the 2014 NHL Draft, held in the lovely city of Philadelphia. As always, Flyers fans impressed with their ability to boo and taunt literally everything, including dead silence. I even spotted a fan with the Flyers logo tattooed on his head! Dedication!

All jokes aside, Philly put on an excellent show. Though in enemy territory, the new management with the Pittsburgh Penguins proved that they were ready to shake things up. Rutherford and Co, fueled by coffee brought to them by Bill Guerin’s son, selected Finland’s Kasperi Kapanen (LW) 22nd overall. The team also traded away James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spalding.

As always, Penguins fans are expecting the team to physically burn to the ground from these moves, but there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. This year’s injury to Pascal Dupuis proved that the Pens have little depth at LW, with folks like Chuck Kobasew serving in Dupuis’ place alongside Sidney Crosby. Dupuis is expected to return at the start of the season, but at age 35 can’t be relied on for long term support. Kapanen might be able to fill that void.

Meanwhile, the Neal move sends a headshot-prone winger away for a solid second line forward in Hornqvist. Spalding is a reliable bottom-six guy. Best of all? Spalding and Hornqvist combined cost about as much as Neal alone. Of course, seeing a high scoring player leave the Burgh is always tough, but this move might actually pan out to our benefit.

Pens GM Rutherford expressed that he will likely not be resigning any of the eleven unrestricted free agents on July 1st, however. The Pens will sorely miss Jokinen and Niskanen, who were easily two of their best performers in this year’s playoffs. Orpik, Glass, Goc, Stempniak, and others will be replaceable.

The loss on defense will require the likes of Simon Despres and Brian Dumoulin to step it up this season.

 

You’ll never walk alone… until you bite someone

I think my least favorite thing about being a sports fan is that most athletes are terrible people.

Sometimes, they bite people, elbow them, are racist, etc. And that’s just on the field.

This behavior, while terrible, really puts fans in an awful position. These are players that you love to cheer for, maybe you even own their jersey. So what are you to do when your favorite players do something disgusting and inexcusable?

This post was really in response to the actions of one of my favorites, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. I love this guy. He’s passionate about the game, he’s clutch, and he scores amazing goals. I love his success. I love the fact that he helps my team win games. However, I don’t love the fact that he, you know, bites people. And says racist shit to them.

Personally, it’s hard for me to explain my feelings about Suarez to other people. After he bit someone today, I received tons of messages from my family and friends asking how I felt about the incident. What Suarez did was wrong, I can’t ever imagine denying it. But a part of me still remembers that league-leading goal scorer side of Suarez, and that part of me wants him to stay in a Liverpool jersey forever.

Fans should never feel obligated to defend their favorites when they do something bad, in fact, it just makes the fan look stupid. We don’t have to justify his actions or come up with a punishment. Leave that up to the league and team management. As difficult as it may be, its okay to let everyone else voice their opinions about your player. Let them be. Your player did something bad, not you.

Ultimately, I can’t tell anyone how to feel about Luis Suarez. For other fans, the feelings of anger and hatred come easily. But to those of us who cheer for Liverpool, it’s a complicated situation. I’m not going to defend Luis Suarez. I sincerely hope that FIFA, Team Uruguay, and LFC take action to correct the situation, whatever that action may be.

So, in the end, I love Luis Suarez, goal scorer. I am not a fan of Luis Suarez, people-biter. I sincerely hope that he takes the correct action to reform himself. I don’t know how many more second chances he can get, but I do know that he could be one of the best in the world if he stops being a jerk on the field.