An open letter to female sports fans

Dear fellow female sports fans, 

It has been a mixed couple of decades for us. We’ve seen the enactment of Title IX and the success of Bianca Andreescu. Interest in sports is growing among younger women: In 2014, 48 per cent of women under 50 reported being interested or very interested in sports, compared to 36 per cent of women over 50. Gender distribution among NFL fans is almost equal, with 47 per cent of viewers being female.

I am inspired to see female sports fans work together and lift each other up. When I first got into sports, I was lucky enough to find a group of women online with whom I was comfortable talking, and that made a huge difference for me. 

But, at every turn, and with every instance of progress, our position with the sporting world has been called into question. If we follow women’s sports, we are told that no one cares, that there will never be an audience, and that they are not as entertaining, so we should watch real (men’s) sports. If we follow men’s sports, we are incessantly badgered with demands to prove that we are “real fans.” Do we only follow them because of our fathers? Our boyfriends? Do we only care about the attractive players? 

We keep watching, though. We support women’s leagues, even when the arenas are tiny and the players only have time to practice in between working their full-time jobs. We put up with patronizing pink merchandise from our favourite teams. We gather our friends and go to games, ready to wield memorized rosters, statistics, and historical facts in case we need to demonstrate that we fit men’s definitions of a “real fan” and win their approval.

Every woman who loves sports has faced opposition, and it breaks my heart to think about all the women who have stopped interacting with online fan communities because they grew tired of misogynistic slurs. And, when I think of the women who are hounded for daring to criticize a beloved player and are then told that they have to either be a girl or a sports fan, that heartbreak turns into rage.

Besides the harassment that we put up with both in person and online, we also have to live with the knowledge that there are athletes in our favourite leagues with histories of domestic violence, that male fans often do not care about. Abuse from famous athletes flies under the radar because a case was dropped for lack of evidence, or a settlement was reached outside of court, or the victim was afraid for her life. The knowledge that violence against women is treated as a speed bump in a player’s career is enough to make most women want to change the channel.

Even if you do not find the same community as I did, do not let that deter you from watching your favourite teams and supporting your favourite players, because you do not owe it to anyone to explain or defend your position as a sports fan. And, remember that there are other women in the same position, sharing the same experiences. 

So, with all that said, keep being amazing, (female) sports fans. I have a feeling that it’s only going to get better for us.

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