March Madness is upon us.
For me, March is both thrilling and frustrating. As a female who happens to love sports -- and be a college basketball fanatic at that -- March Madness is something I look forward to every year. But all the excitement of the tournament comes at a price -- getting mocked by males (and even some females) that continually stereotype female sports fans as either "wannabe bros" or lesbians.
Such judgments are both annoying and offensive for a variety of obvious reasons. Let's focus on the "wannabe bros" label as the latter stereotype is a whole other can of metaphorical worms.
I don't pretend to enjoy all sports, nor do I claim to know more about a player, team, or game than the next fan. But I don't take NCAA basketball lightly and find it condescending when people tell me I only enjoy attending or watching games because I want to prove I can "hang with the guys."
Some men (and women, too) feel the need to assert their superior sports knowledge over female sports fans. In my experience it's a fine line -- guys typically find it attractive that a girl likes sports, but don't like a girl that claims to know more about them. While this is a sweeping generalization, the same type of stereotyping is used to describe female fans. But, many fans defy categorization -- some people solely care about a singular team or even a specific player in one sport or only feel compelled to watch during high-profile sporting events such as the World Cup or the Olympics.
Personally, I am not the type of person that intensely scrutinizes every aspect of every play during every game. But just because I might not know which sports blog had the best recap of last night's game or find myself concerned that a certain player is being traded, that doesn't make me any less of a fan.
To me, watching sports has always been about feeling connected to something you have no control over. It's about putting blind faith in a group of people you will probably never meet, but feeling their triumphs and failures with them. Marveling at their athletic abilities while accepting you will most likely never possess their skills.
While I am passionate about more than just college basketball, I have been most invested in my team, UCLA, for a solid five years now. I have stuck with them through thick and thin (let's be real, more so the latter) -- cried for them, sacrificed sleep (among other things) for them, and suffered a handful of anxiety attacks for my boys in blue and gold.
I'm not very patriotic, but when I watch my team hit the court, I feel a unique sense of pride. It's this feeling that keeps me up at night on the East Coast, streaming the UCLA basketball game, often unapologetically alone, in my room.
The lack of predictability in any given sports game or match is what I find most appealing. You can never really know with absolute certainty how any given play will pan out, as even the simplest move can be interrupted. While this is an obvious statement, it never fails to entertain me. I live for the surprises and the upsets, the buzzer-beaters and the underdogs.
Part of the issue for women like me that enjoy sports is that some girls perpetuate the stereotypes by watching sports to get attention from men. On the flip side, there are also plenty of men that don't enjoy following sports (least of all college basketball). It's fine if you don't like sports -- regardless of your gender -- but don't act like you aren't at the game or viewing party just so you can post an Instagram of it.
I applaud the fans, many of whom I've come across this March Madness, that admit they don't know much about sports but enjoy watching the game to be a part of the camaraderie.
In my various experience both playing and watching sports, I've met some eclectic characters and bonded with complete strangers. I talked shop with a professor from Columbia University at a Nets game, played a game of pick-up soccer with local Peruvians at 12,000 feet along the Inca Trail, and was stampeded by Spanish teenagers when they won the Euro Cup.
At the end of the day, sports bring us together, regardless of gender or class or ideology or age. Whether or not you know or care about the logistics of the game -- whether you're a loyalist or a fair-weather fan -- you can appreciate this feeling.