Katie Baker tries to untangle how Sunday Night Football became the third highest rated show among women:
The crude archetypes of female fandom -- the clueless girlfriend who asks if LeBron scored the touchdown, or the mom who waits for a pivotal moment to express her wish that they wouldn't spit tobacco like that -- manage to endure because everyone has watched a game with one of those types. But to assume that most women would take one look at the league's violence and sexual mayhem and slowly walk away betrays a misunderstanding of football's place in our culture, and also of women.First, the climb in women watching "Sunday Night Football" is clearly correlated to the program's being the No. 1 television show among men. A rising tide raises all viewerships. But that can't be all. The must-see, must-discuss quality to the N.F.L. this season seems to exist because we're more aware of the savagery in the league, not in spite of it. Like many other "real" fans, I got into sports in large part for the characters, stories, rivalries and heartbreak. We saw interpersonal drama where casual fans saw only supersize freaks of nature battering one another. True enjoyment was the province of the devoted.But now it's nearly impossible for people even slightly attuned to culture not to recognize the reality-show-like intrigue of the N.F.L. News of Favre's indiscretions larded up network newscasts; even TMZ.com has a sports page now. And of course the N.F.L. actually does have a reality show, the wonderful "Hard Knocks" on HBO. Each episode is a well-told story, with a buildup and denouement, and it's obsessed with reality-show questions: Who's going to get cut from the team, who's going to move on and will these crazy people ever stop yelling at one another?