Being a female sports fan is a constant battle of proving you are a genuine fan. You will be asked ridiculously specific questions (which have nothing to do with liking the sport), be told that you only watch for the hot players, and have your every word analyzed for the tiniest of mistakes. God forbid you slip up. The population of male sports fans is completely obsessed with proving that women cannot actually enjoy sports and must have some ulterior motive.
In each professional sport, I have a favorite team that I inherited from my family, but I don’t watch all of them in the same way. To be honest, I don’t really enjoy most of them. I love going to sports events in person, but following a team for the entire season is strictly for hockey. In person baseball games are a staple for summer. It’s nostalgic because I grew up watching my cousin play, who did it from the time he was old enough to pick up a bat to the end of his college career. I was also raised to defend the Yankees to the ends of the earth, so that’s rather ingrained in me.
My hockey obsession
Hockey, on the other hand, I became obsessed with early on. I don’t remember exactly what caused it, probably a mixture of growing up in Upstate NY and being a competitive figure skater, but I loved the game. I refused to fall into just supporting one of the teams that my parents did, deciding I wanted to go for a Canadian team because I was also convinced I would end up living there one day. So I settled on the Toronto Maple Leafs. It has consumed my life ever since.
Each year, hockey season comes around and I have to mentally prepare myself for the millions of questions and sexist comments I am going to have to deal with each time I post something regarding my team, wear a jersey, or just try to join in on my male friends’ conversations about the season.
I chose some of the comments I’ve encountered, finding what I thought was most important to touch on. I’m going to try and break down each one to explain just how common this sort of behavior is. Welcome to the world of being a female sports fan. Get ready to be frustrated.
“Obviously he’s your favorite player. He’s not even good, you just like him because he’s cute.”
Mitchell Marner, an alternate captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs. My favorite player in the league. Known for being attractive, therefore the stereotype of every female fan’s favorite. Is he my favorite? Yes. Is he attractive? Yes. Do the two correlate in any way? No.
I choose my favorites based on who I think is the most entertaining to watch on the basis of their skills and techniques. Marner has a specific style to his movements that help him pull off his famous assists. This is what drew me to him. Afterward, when I did more research on him and saw a picture of his face, I realized he was also attractive. Bonus. Not the primary reason though. That’s an important distinction.
In order to understand why this comment is so problematic, allow me to give you some statistics the man who is “not even good.” At the end of the 2020-21 NHL season, Marner was 4th in leading the league for points and assists (67 points: 20 goals, 47 assists), 1st in leading his team for points and assists, and 2nd in leading his team for goals. He is only 24 years old and was No. 4 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by Toronto, meaning he has only been skating in the NHL for five seasons. People can make fun of Marner fans for thinking he’s attractive, but they can’t claim that he isn’t a beast who deserves all the fame.
“Since you own the jersey, name five players from the team”
This comment in particular is thrown around in every situation possible. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the best way to “catch female sports fans in their lies” was to ask them to name players on the team. I have never once heard this question posed to a man. Not once. But every single female friend I have who is a fan of sports has been asked to do it multiple times. This doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
I took this exact quote from a conversation I had while I was wearing a replica Miracle on Ice jersey. If you’re not familiar, in the 1980 Winter Olympics, the United States Hockey Team, consisting of mostly amateurs, beat the Soviet Union Hockey Team, consisting of mostly professionals. It was deemed a miracle.
Now, the reason this particular interaction is so mind-blowing is because it wasn’t even about modern sports teams. It’s not like I’m walking around in this boy’s favorite team’s jersey when he tests if I’m a “real” fan. Which still would’ve been annoying. I am literally wearing a replica of a jersey from one of the biggest moments in sports history and he STILL asks about players’ names. Don’t try to understand the logic, because there isn’t any. The misogyny is exhausting.
“Well, how was I supposed to know you like baseball? You like hockey.”
As I mentioned earlier, baseball is my second favorite sport to watch. However, I don’t talk about it as much because I prefer going to games over watching them on TV. I don’t necessarily follow the Yankees game by game every season. However, I do still speak about it pretty often and join in on discussions when I can. I still love the sport.
So, when two of my guy friends were talking about it, I wanted to join. After being instantly shut down, needless to say, I was more than a little offended. I explained that I actually did know what I was talking about, right around the same time that one of them chimed in and said that he could “teach me about sports.” When I called them out for making assumptions, they were very upset that I “insinuated that they were sexist,” defending their statements. One boy, who watches every single sport on the planet, said his surprise was because I like hockey. Apparently, he can like as many sports as he wants, but I can only like one.
I didn’t know that liking hockey meant I hate baseball, but I’m just a girl, so what do I know anyway?
“Most girls say their favorite is Matthews because it’s the only name they know.”
This is one of the common themes I see popping up in discussions of female fans. For some reason, we can’t like the “mainstream” or “well-known” players because then the assumption is that we just overhear the name and commit it to memory. It has never made sense to me. Popular players are popular players for good reasons, at least most of the time, after all. There are still plenty of overhyped players, but that’s a whole other topic.
This is the last time I’ll spit a bunch of hockey stats at you, I promise. I just need you to understand a little about this player. Auston Matthews was No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, setting a record by scoring 4 goals in his NHL debut game, was the 2016-17 NHL Rookie of the Year, broke records by scoring 40 goals in 49 games, and led the entire league in goals scored for the 2020-21 season.
All of this to say, it’s not exactly hard to figure out why Matthews is a favorite. Even if someone does just hear his name and commit it to memory, why are we so obsessed with gatekeeping sports?
Now it’s not just the men that are doing these sorts of things. Women out there are making the jokes too. I can’t tell you how many times a day I see the same kind of TikToks. There will be a girl wearing a pink jersey. The punchline of the entire video is “when he says he likes sports so you pretend to know what’s going on” or “when *insert hot player* is on the tv.” Now, not all women have to like sports. And there’s nothing wrong with pink jerseys. Actually, these jokes would be funny if it wasn’t such a stereotype. I’ll admit, I make the joke about watching hockey for attractive players a lot to my friends. But that’s because they know I’m not serious. I wish I could make the jokes publicly, but it’s only fueling the fire of trying to gatekeep sports.
Speaking of gatekeeping, let’s talk about the girls who put other girls down while trying to impress a boy. I have seen it too many times to keep count. A girl wants to impress a guy, she likes sports, so she says something to the guy about how she “knows most girls just fake it to look cute” but she “actually watches sports unlike most girls.” Honestly, it’s time we got out of this “I’m not like most girls” mindset in general. Go listen to the song by Hailee Steinfeld; she explains it much better than I will be able to.
So… now what?
I wish I could say that I had a magical answer to this problem. But in all honesty, it still affects me more than I’d like to admit. I’d love to say it doesn’t get to me, that when someone questions my dedication, I just roll my eyes. But, that’s not the full truth. Facing this kind of stuff every day on top of everything else women have to go through is exhausting. And honestly, we need to start taking it seriously.
You don’t need to go to war over every comment, but pay attention to what people around you say. Start noticing what you say. We all have stereotypes and biases ingrained in us without even knowing it. Becoming aware is the first step to change.
P.S. If you do watch sports for attractive players (male or female), power to you. Don’t take this as shame, I think you’re entirely valid (and suggest you check out Trevor Zegras).