The Wages of Female Sports Fandom

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Alyssa is finding it hard to root for anyone in the Super Bowl:


...it's not really a matter of deciding between two good options. Players on both teams--Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Green Bay's Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Josh Sitton, Khalil Jones, Korey Hall, Matt Flynn, and Brandon Underwood--have all had serious sexual assault allegations made against them recently (the most recent allegations against Roethlisberger were dropped because the victim didn't want to go through a trial; Jones, Matthews, Sitton, Jones, Hall, and Flynn were cleared; Underwood remains under investigation). As a result, I'm trying to figure out who I want to lose less: the quarterback around whom there seems to be a perpetual fug of ugly sexual behavior towards women, or a player who may have assaulted two women at a single party.

I found reading Gabriel Sherman's GQ profile of Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio sickening, in part because of one particular incident described in the article: It took Daulerio--who runs what is supposed to be a sports site--days to recognize that perhaps it was unwise to run a video of an extremely intoxicated young woman potentially being raped in a stadium bathroom. An editorial approach like that, if that's even what Daulerio's decision-making process in that case can be called, violently excises women from the potential Deadspin audience. And it's of a piece with ugly behavior like Gate D at Giants Stadium during Jets games, where male fans try to harass women into taking off their tops.

You can see video from Gate D here. Reading this, my immediate reaction was something along the lines of "If I were a woman, I'd really avoid male sports." But I think that's a very "black male" reaction and not a very "woman" reaction. What Alyssa is discussing here is extreme, but at what point does this sort of thing become the air? 

Alyssa links to a Jezebel piece, citing a 1998 study that says one in five NFL players has been accused of a crime, which implies a tie between the aggression players are urged toward on the field, and the incidents we see off the field. I've seen this case made before, but I'm unpersuaded. It's never been clear to me that sexual assault--or any criminal behavior--occurs at a higher rate among NFL players, when compared to a similar cohort of non-pro football players. The point here isn't exoneration. It's that, if this is the way that much of the world is for you, if football isn't particularly unique, how much do you get out of withdrawing? Where do you even withdraw to?


I'm struggling to think of good corrollaries, because race and gender don't really match up in the same way. If Ben Rothlisberger were repeatedly accused of racism, he would--first and foremost--have hard time in his own locker room. Leaving that aside, I could surely find my way into a Super Bowl party filled with black people rooting for him to be taken out on a stretcher. Meanwhile, in the article of Gate D, there's a woman bragging (unconvincingly) about flashing the crowd of leering onlookers. Communities of gender are complicated in ways that communities of ethnicity are not.

And finally there are the varying codes of macho. Watching that Gate D video, my immediate thought was not "It's wrong to disrespect women," but "That's some real punk shit." Men--even young men--have all kinds of complicated codes for what they judge to be "manly."  A male can live his entire life, bearing a particular stripe of macho, and never find himself in a crowd like the one at Gate D. He can go his entire life and never really know the dude who thinks the date rape drug is good idea. 

He can decide that being accused (twice) of rape is something more than adversity to be overcome in the off-season. And he can surround himself with a community of men who think the same. None of them would be self-described feminists, or particularly concerned with the the plight of women. But in that same cold manner that Lincoln didn't like slavery, they tend to dislike bullies. 

There are lot of "men" of all stripes in the world. And it's shockingly easy, if you're a man, to never meet "that dude," and if you do to just wave him off as an asshole. A woman, on the other hand, only has to meet him once. She will likely conclude that something more than mere assholery is at work.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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