Football is the one sport I ever enjoyed playing. I went through years of girls’ softball, because that is what girls in my neighborhood did, and even a disastrous single season of soccer. My parents’ favorite story about my early sports career involves an assignation at the defensive end of the soccer field and the concentrated scrutiny of a bumblebee. When asked why I wasn’t running after the ball, my response was that it would be coming back down any minute anyway.
You can’t do that in football. You can’t wait in the outfield or by the goal and space out. Football makes you plug in, use your mind, accomplish strategy as well as athleticism. I spent a glorious couple of weeks at a flag football YMCA camp over the summer, and came home and informed my mother that I wanted to try out for the high school junior varsity team.
As you can imagine, she wasn’t thrilled. But I went to the coach (who I knew through the Y) and talked to him about it. I set myself a couple of extra training sessions before the summer training would begin. And then my mother finally came to me, told me how hideously uncomfortable she was with me playing, for reasons of probable on-field murder, and I dropped out.
Fast forward a few years, because San Diego, where I grew up, is not a sports-centric town to the degree that Seattle is. It was relatively easy for me to ignore the Chargers for entire seasons at a time, and the high school that I eventually transferred to didn’t even have sports teams. There are plenty of things you like as a kid that you learn to let go of – Animorphs, Polly Pocket, football. I let them all go.
And then last year I got to Seattle. Holy crap does Seattle love its Seahawks. And for the first time ever, I had friends who loved football too. A whole group of them, actually – my boyfriend’s Fantasy league. I was dubious at first that merely watching the game could be as cool as playing it, but they proved my fears misplaced. I watched games at their houses, screaming with them at the television and making regrettable beverage decisions. I participated in the Playoff Challenge, making some risky lineup choices that actually served me fairly well (at first). I left class to go to the parade downtown when the Seahawks returned from the Super Bowl. I know players’ names and positions. I have Football Opinions. I even wrote a couple of columns for the Central Circuit.
I made it very clear that when next year’s draft rolled around, I wanted in the league.
Next year’s draft is rolling around, but guess what? I’m not in the league. Because I’m a girl.
That’s it. That’s the reason.
Not “I’m inexperienced” or “I’m shitty to hang out with” or “I’m too competitive.”
I’m a girl. And it hurts.
My boyfriend was miserable when he told me. He’s caught between a rock and a hard place, and while it’s easy for me to think he should dump his sexist douchebag friends, I know things aren’t that simple. By even inviting me he was taking a risk, exposing to his hyper-masculine sports bros that he legitimately enjoys sharing interests with a lady. Quitting the league in protest would have him labelled a “pussy” in a heartbeat. I know how it feels to suddenly realize one’s friends are out of touch, or exploitative, or just not who you thought they were. It’s happened to me too, that subtle shift when you realize that you have always been something lesser to them. You pour over past interactions, looking for the place their respect broke, before realizing it was never really there to begin with. It can feel like being stabbed. I understand.
If we want to get technical, it’s not even a rule on the league books that women aren’t allowed to play. Nominations to fill a vacated slot were brought to the group’s admin, and so as far as I know his was the only voice directly involved in the conversation. His stated reasoning was that he didn’t want to have to tone down his shit-talk in the presence of a female; I told Boyfriend what I thought of that in no uncertain terms, but I won’t replicate the language I used on here.
Possible REAL reasons:
- It is terrifying to the group admin to think that he might at some point be beaten in a competitive match by a woman.
- Any competence on my part will shake the belief that women are inherently uninterested in traditionally male activities. Any day now, women could start being scientists or Marines or successful in business.
- There is rampant fear that if my PMS and a bad fantasy week coincide I will murder them all with Doritos.
- Breasts will impair my judgment, preventing me from making effective decisions and taking otherwise useful players out of the draft.
- The thought that I am only watching football because of men in tight pants and it is totally wrong to objectify athletes. Except cheerleaders.
- The true “fantasy” is an endless boys’ club, where they are surrounded by a warm haze of cigarette smoke and manly hugging.
- My presence in the room and on the message board will force the league members to examine their language for misogyny and offensive gender terminology, and perhaps to grow as humans.
There is a shadow justification, though: I’m relatively sure (and I think Boyfriend suspects, but I don’t want to quote him directly) that the rule is set in place to prevent specific girlfriends from joining the league, because their respective boyfriends want a place set apart from them (despite the fact that those girlfriends are frequently also present at games).
I am all for having space in a relationship but if you don’t feel that desire can be respected if articulated overtly to your partner, I’m sorry, but you have other issues you need to address. The fact that I am being prevented from playing fantasy football because–oh no–it might set a precedent where other women want to play too is fucking ridiculous. Their relationship drama is not my problem. I just want to play.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Casual sexism is so much easier to fall back on than honest self-assessment. It’s that lovely catch-all, ensuring that these men aren’t forced to examine their communication methods or set healthy boundaries. Boyfriend is inviting the girlfriends and me to another league, but I hate the thought of reinforcing the initial behavior – “See, they don’t want to play with us anyway,” the boys all say. “Now they can have their girly league.”
And that wasn’t the stated reason, just me trying to read into things. What was stated to Boyfriend was that I can’t be in because I’m a girl. So that’s what I get to sit with, the same week that I’m harassed by a man to the point of having to verbally confront him on a busy street, that I struggle over an article on the Garfield High rape case and the sudden concern that being approached for it was an instance of tokenism rather than a compliment to my writing.
It has been a shitty week for me as a woman.
Perhaps the worst part of this is that I no longer feel comfortable spending time doing an activity I enjoy with people I liked. I am losing respect for people I counted as friends, and I don’t know what I’m going to say next time they all go out drinking together. Is this the sort of thing a friendship can survive? Or are there other microagressions just waiting in the wings? On a fundamental level, am I a competent adult person to them? Call it an overreaction, but I have no interest in surrounding myself with people who are going to let this bullshit fly. I am getting angry with Boyfriend for his privilege and for his unwillingness to break from a group of people who don’t seem to respect me. I am angry with myself for thinking that he should desert his friends when they’re only parroting the cultural narrative that’s been fed to them for years.
And I’m angry at football, for creating and perpetuating that culture. I’m angry at football for having so infiltrated the minds of those around me that to suggest they analyze its cultural ramifications is tantamount to suggesting they put their heads in a blender. I’m angry at football for the toll it takes on its players, for its racism, for its homophobia.
But it’s fun. God, is it fun.