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Erica Boeke

Erica Boeke

Posted: December 23, 2008 02:44 PM

The Changing Face of the Game


Overheard in a Columbus Circle gym locker room this week in New York City: "Sure, he called Elisha Cuthbert 'sloppy seconds,' but players trash talk their exes -- and each other's moms -- all the time. Do you really think the Stars have been gunning for him since he signed?" and "Yes, Plax totally screwed up, but don't you think shooting himself and sitting out the rest of the season is punishment enough?" This was overheard in the women's locker room, by the way.

Gentlemen, look out. The Old Boys Club of Sports Fans has a few new female members. Try upwards of 50 million women who follow at least one professional sports team, according to a 2002 Scarborough study. (More recent projections put the number of female fans closer to 70 million.)

Female sports fans, please repeat after me: We're here! We cheer (passionately for our favorite teams)! Get used to it!

Don't worry, fellas. We're not here to invade the inner sanctum -- like the Leslie Mann character in "Knocked Up," when she busts in on her husband, played by Paul Rudd, as he secretly participates in an underground Fantasy Baseball cult.

We're here to watch sports in our own way. To soak up the drama on and off the field. To comment on the fusion of pop culture and sports. To enjoy other aspects of the game -- food, travel, fashion, music and sure, the occasional juicy story about SWAGs (sports wives and girlfriends). But let me assure you, our interest in sports is not just a technique to impress our husbands or boyfriends, or even to meet men. And nowhere in our conversations do we talk about which team has a "cuter uniform" or how great the athletes' butts look in their tight pants. Please.

My sister and I walked into a sports bar last football season, proudly -- and stylishly, I might add -- sporting Steelers apparel (apparel that was black & gold, not pink -- but that is another subject for another blog). We hadn't even ordered a beer yet, when a guy walked up to us and started quizzing us on whether we knew the first and last name of the Steelers' new coach and asking us if we knew the top-five rushers of all time. I could hear the Jeopardy theme song playing inside my head. I said to him, "First, who is Mike Tomlin? Second, who cares about all-time rushers? And third, what year did the Steelers merge with the Eagles to become the Steagles, just for one season, because most of the players in the league were fighting overseas in World War II?" He didn't know. I did: 1943. And thankfully, this got him to leave us alone so we could enjoy our game in peace.

It's fine. We're used to it. And to be fair, guys quiz each other like this. It's their way of sizing each other up. We get it. But we're not really concerned with that stat-head guy. We are content to enjoy sports with our families and girlfriends -- and our enlightened guy friends, who listen to our reflections and opinions, rather than try to test us on the numbers. In our world, sports bring people together -- uniting them in a common cause and a lively conversation.

And that's why I wanted to reach out to women who know how many points are in a touchdown -- and what an RBI is and what a hat trick means. Because I don't think anyone is talking to us. Sure there are plenty of fluffy pink books (there's that color again) that try to dumb sports down for women. And then there are the books that try to teach us to watch sports like men. (We all know that men and women are wired differently, and I maintain that our appreciation of sports is no different. I often liken it to the fact that men memorize every line from every movie, and women can tell you the plot. The same goes for sports.)

While we might not be obsessed with memorization, female fans are more concerned with the emotional side of sports. When I reflect back on my favorite sports memory, it involves who I watched the game with (my dad) ... the amazing array of stomach-ache-causing food we ate (too many to list) ... the great music that was playing ("We are Family") ... the summer breeze at the ballpark ... my first glimpse of my favorite player of all time (Willie Stargell) ... and the thrill of victory (back when the Pittsburgh Pirates were good). Not one of those memories involves the stats that Willie (or Dave Parker or Omar Moreno or Bill Madlock or Phil Garner) racked up.

So guys, as you look around in the stands and at the sports bar, don't be threatened by the growing number of female fans surrounding you. And don't worry; we're really not trying to force our way into your club. We're forming a club of our own.

Erica Boeke is the co-author of "GameFace: The Kick-Ass Guide for Women Who Love Pro Sports" and the creator of GoGameFace.com. She lives in New York City, but deeply loves the San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, she plans to name her first child, boy or girl, Franco Harris Boeke.