Opinion | Let women enjoy sports casually

By Rachel Soloff, Opinions Editor

Picture this — a woman in a sports jersey is sitting at a bar and watching a game. A man — usually a stranger — approaches her as he spots her watching the game intently. Rather than ask her if she’s enjoying the game, he immediately asks her what the quarterback’s cousin’s name is or some other question that has no other relevance to her. Obviously, she can’t answer it, she’s a casual fan and he scoffs. “You’re not even a real fan.”

If you are a woman who enjoys sports, this situation may sound familiar to you. The superiority that male sports fans seem to have is absurd and dissuades women from engaging in sports culture in any meaningful way. You can support a team casually — or even intensely — as a woman, but the obsessive way in which men quiz women on sports facts is inherently stupid and it needs to stop. Sports is something that can bring enjoyment to everyone. The male culture that pushes women away from it brings a negative image to something we all can love.

Growing up, I always watched football and basketball but I never really understood the rules — especially of football — until I got to college. One reason for this was the way sports were presented to me. The men in my family would gather around the TV and yell and I was a kid who did not love loud noises. They’d turn the volume up all the way and rattle off stats to each other. There was no room for me to ask any meaningful questions, and as soon as I heard the game turn on, I’d slink off into my room to read or hang with the moms in the kitchen. 

As I got to college and started going to the Pitt football games, my girlfriends became my teachers. They were patient when I asked stupid questions about obvious rules and took the time to explain them to me in a way that made sense. I began to watch more NFL games and slowly I learned the rules and found out that I really enjoy the sport that I grew up resenting. 

This is not to say that now I am a die-hard fan and now know Jalen Hurts’ birth time, but sports are fun for me to follow casually. It’s so upsetting to me that many women do not have a place to learn about sports because they are worried about sounding uneducated about the topic. Women — just like anyone else — deserve to have a space where they can watch and learn about sports without a man bothering them about inconsequential facts.

Women are already underrepresented in sports — on and off the field. Sports media, management and coaching have much more men than women employed. Women’s sports teams are underfunded and do not get the same media attention that men’s sports teams do. 

This begins with the culture. If women do not feel welcome in the arena of sports as children or young women, they will become dissuaded from pursuing sports. Not allowing people the space to even casually enjoy watching sports can lead to big gender disparities such as these.

While that example is the extreme, in more casual and everyday situations, not letting women enjoy sports alienates them. Sports is talked about in the workplace, at bars and restaurants, online and in many other spaces. If women aren’t “allowed” to be passive sports fans, they can become excluded from social gathering sites. If they are worried about getting quizzed by men, they’ll slowly move away from sports.

This all garners back to the misogynistic history of women’s involvement in sports. In the same way that Victorian era doctors said women couldn’t compete in sports because of their inherent weakness, men today are saying that women aren’t intelligent enough to enjoy them. Enjoying the game or the company you watch with is something that women should have the luxury to do. This does not denote a lack of intelligence or lack of respect for the sport — it means that they might have different priorities when it comes to enjoying sports.

This is not to say that all women are casual sports fans and all men are rude to women who enjoy sports, but it is a pattern I have observed into my adulthood. Times are changing and more and more women are becoming die-hard sports fans and more men have opened up spaces for them. However, it doesn’t need to be remarkable — it should be the norm. On the flip side, if you are a woman who just doesn’t have an interest in sports at all, this is also completely fine. Either way, it’s important to interrogate internal and external sources that lead to this aversion.

In the meantime, while men figure out how not to quiz women on sports facts, there are women-majority spaces. Female-run sports bars that show women’s sports and have primarily female patrons have become a new safe haven for women to enjoy sports without harassment. 

Next time there’s a game you really want to go to, bring some friends even if they aren’t into sports — you’ll be surprised how much more fun you have without men asking you when Kenny Pickett lost his first tooth.

Rachel Soloff writes primarily about the entertainment industry and how lame antisemites are. Write to her at [email protected].