Last night was my first experience with women’s professional sports. We’re friends with the Director of Officiating for the Legends Football League, and a couple of weeks ago, he called my husband and told us that the season opening game here in Chicago needed people to run the clocks and down chains. I recruited a few people I work with, which wasn’t hard to do.
Pre-game, the announcer introduced retired players from last year’s Championship Bliss team. These beautiful ladies came out to the center of the field and although the less-than-half-full arena cheered them on, I couldn’t help but wonder why this wasn’t a bigger deal. Chicagoland is home to some nine million people. You’d think that a city that embraces The Bears, The White Sox, The Cubs and The Blackhawks would certainly embrace an all-female full-contact championship-winning football team.
Not so much.
After the game, a group of us went to a nearby sports bar. Players from the team showed up there, including the retired champs. Curious, intrigued, and impressed by the game, I introduced myself to these ladies.
I learned that the league has one owner, who controls the marketing and expansion of the league.The woman I spoke to wasn’t derogatory towards the league at all; she said she loved the game and loved playing but it wasn’t worth the time commitment and injury for her anymore. I asked her what she does now; she drives a truck. Most of the women have other jobs, playing in the league is a side-hustle. Many of them are moms. All of them look amazing in their ‘uniforms’, rocking real bodies with real curves. All of them play for the love of the sport, because there’s definitely no money in it and very little fan support, at least in the United States. Apparently the League makes most of its money from overseas viewership.
So when I returned to my table, where there were seven men and two women, I wanted to know why this league isn’t taken more seriously. It seems so contradictory- men who love looking at women and watching women think the game is ‘entertaining’, but it’s not entertaining enough. I had a lively debate (possibly fueled by rum buckets) about why (at least in this microcosm of opinion) professional women’s sports will never succeed. Here’s what I learned:
It’s not that men view women as inferior. It is one-hundred percent that men tap into their primal gladiator cave-man DNA when they watch sports, and they want to see the best of THE BEST. The men in this discussion last night basically said that if there were women on a men’s team who could perform at the same level the men do, that it wouldn’t matter that they were women. What matters is the level of play, not the players. I argued that this mentality is pretty sexist; even women who do perform at a level equal to male counterparts (Danica Patrick came to mind) still don’t get much respect. The men at the table got pretty animated defending their stance; vehemently reminding me that they’re not sexist, it just is what it is. If Tom Brady was a woman, they wouldn’t care, as long as she can do what Tom Brady does.
And then I had an epiphany.
The reason why women’s professional sports like the LFL aren’t rising to the ranks of the NFL is because WOMEN don’t support it.
Think about this. Men support men in sports in a way that women have NEVER (and might never) support women in sports. Women judge other women so harshly, so completely, and so socially that we are our own worst enemy. If women supported the LFL, if the owner of the League were a female, if women would go to these games and buy the merchandise and follow the players… what would that look like?
But I suspect, much like the pageant world, much like the corporate world, we like to blame our plight on the imbalance between women and men, when really, women just don’t support other women. If women adopted the male point of view about professional sports, we’d all be unconcerned about what professional male athletes are doing and focus on the most elite of our species playing games and doing things that we can admire, and the men would be the ones in the stands with us ‘enjoying’ the game regardless of how invested they are in who wins and loses.
Personally, I think it’s time to flip the script. Absolutely I am not taking anything away from any woman who has ever been taken advantage of by a man; this isn’t an affront to the #metoo movement, so don’t send me hate mail. But it’s time for women to stop enjoying the role of the phoenix-rising victim where all men are guilty before proven innocent and understand that our problems with equality start with ourselves. Maybe we abandon the idea of getting men to buy into women’s pro sports and start trying to figure out how we get women to buy in instead.