Ahhh, college hoops. The body paint. The outspoken coaches (like Bobby Knight or John Chaney or Geno Auriemma or who could forget Andy Kennedy). The unruly mascots. The young and wild players getting in and out of trouble. The rowdy fans. The rowdy female fans.
Sure, we all agree this UNC fan's comment was extremely offensive. But some members of the press seem to be making as much of a fuss about the fact that the comment was made by a "rich" female fan, as they are about the content of the statement itself. If a male fan had yelled out the same slur, would the comment have received as much attention? We would hope so, but is it really surprising to people that a woman could get so riled up about her team -- or the fact that a lady fan made such an unladylike comment?
It's not surprising to me that women are passionate about sports, and that more and more women are following college sports. If you've been following this blog, you already know that in 2008, I co-wrote a book called GameFace and launched GoGameFace.com, for women who love sports, but not necessarily memorizing stats. I know there are millions of us out there who are extremely connected to our teams and favorite athletes.
According to a 2007 study*, about 30% of women age 18 and older consider themselves fans of college basketball and football - up from the year before. (Yes, these are stats, but they are interesting stats, no?) And another 2007 study** revealed that 60% of women said they watched televised sports regularly, while only 42% watched soap operas regularly. In short: women love the drama on and off the court more than we love the drama in and out of General Hospital. Does the fact that women love drama surprise anyone? Uh, no.
It also does not surprise me that college is the place where many women begin their love affair with sports. (My love affair started much earlier, at around age 7, sitting with my dad keeping score at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. And thank goodness I didn't have to wait until college, because my school had a ridiculously weak collegiate sports program.)
But for many women -- especially those who didn't grow up with brothers or a particularly sporty father figure -- college is where many start to appreciate the other aspects of sports that don't include memorizing stats or being tested on the depth of your knowledge. Many women begin experiencing sports as purely a social gathering. Sure, you get your pre-game drink on (if you're of age, of course), but the next thing you know, you're wearing matching team shirts ... painting your face and/or body ... making oh-so-clever signs to hold up for the cameras ... and then you end up holding hands, crying, and singing/chanting on national TV after a loss -- or a win.
Soon enough, many female fans also start experiencing other powerful elements of college sports: the loyalty and camaraderie ... the pomp and circumstance ... the time-honored tradition and long-standing legacy ... the true meaning of being a "blue blood."
If you happen to go to a school like Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Kentucky, and more recently, Florida or Memphis -- you can smell the tradition in the air. And if you go to a school that happens to upset one of these teams, one win can literally make your season. Walking through campus, you'll find a new spring in your step and your chin held a little higher, having just put a ding in your rival's time-honored tradition.
Many a female sports fan has had their love affair with college sports ignited by "tradition nights," where you learn the songs, chants and wacky rituals that stay with you forever. These traditions are the things that make the UNC fan stick around and sing, even though most schools would find their students cussing and heading for the exits after a loss. These traditions are what cause people to hate losing to KU because they have to hear the droning "Rock Chalk" chant (even in their own house), or the slightly more entertaining UCLA chant. These traditions have caused thousands of Duke fans to grab their sleeping bags and spend a night in K-ville year after year, and have kept the St. Joe's Hawk mascot flapping at least one wing throughout the entire game for more than 50 years.
Many women also begin appreciating the lessons that sports teach you, whether you're a player or a spectator. Things like being a good winner and a better loser. (Hope you're reading this, girl from UNC.) The fact that there's no "i" in "team." Listening to your coach, even if he's a bit of a jackass. Doing the right thing because it's the right thing, but also because you really want to play next week. The joy when the underdogs win. The despair when the heroes fall.
And then these female fans become hooked. For life. Because these are magical moments that only sports can deliver, and these are moments that stay with you long after college -- year after year, roster after roster, dramatic plot twist after dramatic plot twist. Being a college hoops fan becomes a part of your DNA, part of who you are -- whether you're a man or woman ... whether you're a student or alum ... whether it's the first game in November or the frenzied height of March Madness.
* Scarborough and Sports Business Journal, 2007
** BIGresearch, 2007
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