Can Men and Women Watch Sports Together?

Hi Hampton,

Richard Greenberg, in his play about a gay baseball player who decides to come out, Take Me Out, has one of his main characters joke, "The whole mess started with a really beautiful park. And in the park were a man, a woman, a serpent, and this tree." Of course sports are about sex. Roger Angell—perhaps the greatest baseball writer of all time, and a man who seemed to have a lot fewer problems with that concept than those who have come after him—wrote about the movie Bull Durham, "It's certainly the first movie that ever suggested (and enjoyed) the fact that ballplayers are sexual animals, objects of vivid interest to women. They do beautiful things with their bodies, it says, and we watch them not just to see who's going to win."

If straight women and gay men are the people who get that, and are comfortable with that essential truth at the heart of sports, doesn't that mean that my plans to be the future Mrs. Wes Welker make me a better fan than you are?

I kid. Mostly. But I think what we're stuck on is this: you're saying straight women interrupt the brutal rituals of dude-bonding over sports. And I'm saying that women's ways of fandom are just as important, and that men's bonding rituals marginalize that at best, and threaten women who are fans at worst. Is what we want irreconcilable?

I also think you're underestimating the extent to which women can talk trash about sports. I spend a lot of time with my guy friends calling Ben Roethlisberger a rapist potato, dishing third-hand gossip about Derek Jeter's sex life, and talking about Eli Manning's big vulnerable dumb puppy eyes and how disgusted I am that the Patriots' collapse elevated his stature in the game. But I also mostly watch sports with fellow Red Sox and Patriots fans, so we're a united front. That mockery's a collective project aimed at demoralizing the other team, so we don't need to turn on each other. If we're watching with a fan from another nation, you're probably right—I'll leave tearing them down to my guy friends. I tend to think my theory about how Peyton Manning should make buddy comedies with Vince Vaughn after retirement is funnier than calling a guy sitting two down the couch from me an asshole. But I don't need to say any of these things, or to be more or less of a jerk, to be right about BenJarvus Green-Ellis's potential before the rest of my regular sports-watching buddies acknowledged it.

And you know what? If the game's just about going for every jugular in the vicinity, then I don't really need in. But I think there are a lot of legitimate ways to be a sports fan, whether you're a guy or a girl. Be you a statistics obsessive who lives with a radio plugged into your ear, a veteran manager of a thousand fantasy teams, or yeah, a girl in a mini-skirt, jersey, and big hoop earrings hollering from the bleachers that a pitcher has a God-given right to check the runner at first in response to a balk call, I pretty much believe all fandom is created equal.

And I tend to think the experience of rooting for a team, or watching sports in general, is richer when all those kinds of appreciation can co-exist and can bring people together in joy and agony. As Mason, the gay accountant who becomes a baseball fan during the course of Take Me Out says after going to a major league game for the first time says, "It was the first crowd I had ever agreed with."

I'm comfortable with the idea that sports are about competition and sex and America, and all that stuff we invoke when a bunch of guys run onto a field to chase a ball around. I don't feel any particular need to shut down or regulate dudes yelling at each other. But I don't really believe that if all women who love sports stopped commenting on athletes' sex appeal, guys would suddenly make the collective spaces of fandom, from stadiums to sports blogs, reasonably safe places for women. (As a side note, I think we can agree that horrible behavior at stadiums, from extreme profanity, to drunkenness, to physical altercations, is a problem for huge numbers of people without regard to gender. It's a real tragedy that people who are unable to behave make it impossible for families to come to games together.) Why should one way of appreciating sports have pride of place over all the others?

Alyssa

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