Can Women Really Be Football Fans?

I am going to just warn you right out of the gate, this is not an objective column.  I have an opinion on the subject for sure, but I welcome yours too.  Let the fun begin…

A few weeks ago I was sitting down in the Sports Cave with the hubby surfing around the television and happened upon a Pittsburgh Passion football game.  The Passion is a professional women’s football team.

They’re pretty good; they finished their season 8-2.  But, I am pretty sure that was the first time the husband even realized there was such a thing, and I’ll fully confess that I don’t follow them as a rule, but we lingered on that channel for a while and watched.  What it brought to mind was a comment a co-worker said to me once many years ago, which is that I can’t be a true football fan because I’m a woman, and I’ve never played the game.  Despite how long ago he said it, I remember clearly that’s the order he listed the reasons:  that my shortcomings were first that I was a woman, followed by having never played.  He was tall, slender and looked like he was good at chess and maybe polo, but I’m pretty sure he never played anything more than sandlot ball with the neighborhood kids growing up either, but then again, he wasn’t the one that everyone knew as “the really big Steeler fan”.  Therefore, when I sat there watching these women, some of whom are built robustly enough to make me think they’d stand a chance in any NFL camp, I remembered what he said to me and wondered if he’d say today that the only women who met his qualifications of a legitimate female football fan are the women in this league.

Times have certainly changed from when I was growing up and my dad was pressuring me into fandom.  I was relatively unique among my peers.  My best friend was a passionate Dallas Cowboy fan (she could name the entire starting line-up, both offense and defense, their jersey numbers and college affiliations – I saw her do it on a bar bet once), but that was about it.  Women who hung around football games did it for the social aspect of it and, let’s face it, to meet guys.  Now it’s not at all unusual to come across female fans who follow football for the game’s sake.  The league even markets to us with merchandise designed specifically for women, and of course, the laudable work to call attention to fighting breast cancer.  The question is, therefore, are all those women the NFL caters to true fans or not?  And how do you define what a true fan is?

The Steeler fan base is known for having the largest female contingent of any of the other NFL teams.  That’s official too.  The claim is based on a Scarborough Sports Marketing survey done in 2006, which reported that 34 percent of women in the Pittsburgh area identified themselves as Steelers fans, followed by Green Bay with 29.4 percent.  (The first time I heard that we led the league was actually from another Steeler fan in the women’s bathroom at Lambeau Field, ironically enough.)  But, if you are to credit my former co-worker, we’re a bunch of fakers.  Or most of us are anyway.

I’ll admit that it was harder for hockey to grow on my husband because he has never skated.  I have, so I know what it feels like to be on the ice and immediately had a better appreciation of exactly how athletic professional hockey players are and how much skill they possess.  But, he got there.  No one has ever challenged his sincerity as a fan that I am aware of.

But I will also admit that I have absolutely no clue what it’s like to be on the field with a bunch of guys who are pure muscle in pads coming straight for me with the express purpose of physically putting a stop, in all likelihood violently, to my progress.  I don’t know the pressure of making real time decisions in those circumstances.  Assessing what circumstances are high up in the stands where I have a full view of every single person in motion is a luxury I have that a player doesn’t.  I know that intellectually, but I’ll concede I don’t know it as someone who has “been there”.  Does that make me less of a fan?

I have thought this question over pretty carefully.  I think the definition of a fan is someone who knows the game, enjoys the game, respects the game and is loyal to the game.  Therefore, this is my answer to that question: I am a football fan.  More specifically, I am a Steeler fan.  And proud of it.

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