Women and the NFL

First of all, let me share with you what inspired me to write this piece, aside from the history-making match that graced our screens a few Sundays ago, which I shall get to shortly.

I will spare you all the ins and outs, but in a nutshell, a guy decided to private message on Twitter and what started out as a conversation about American football (which I am always open to) soon went downhill. It was nothing awful, but it was enough to make me feel uncomfortable, and this is the big thing.

If something makes you feel uncomfortable, then it’s not ok, no matter how big or little that thing maybe. And why should I have to be made to feel uncomfortable just because I’m a woman who enjoys sports?

I shared my experience with the other writers too who agreed that what had happened was not ok, and were incredibly supportive, both male and female alike. Knowing I had the support of the men in the group as well as the women was a huge boost and reassured me it really is just the minority that sometimes ruin it for the majority.

Also, let’s not forget that sometimes men can also be our biggest supporters, just look at JJ Watt or Zach Ertz who are both huge ambassadors for their pro soccer wives Kealia and Julie respectively.

After the odd exchange with said Twitter individual, I got a bee in my bonnet about why being a female football fan (and other sports too) isn’t enough, why can’t men just want to talk sport with you? Nothing more and nothing less.

After pondering on this for a couple of days, I decided to reach out to other female sports fans (be it predominantly American football) to see if they would share their experience with me.

I was inundated with responses from women around the world, and oddly enough the biggest issue seemed to be here in the UK. And the country that seemed to be the most accommodating of female NFL fans was in fact the US.

The examples I could share with you are almost never-ending, below is a selection of just a few...

One of their stories included being told that ‘women don’t like football’. Who says they don’t? I can’t see one man saying that to another, so why is it ok to say it to a woman?

Another told of how they were once chatting to a customer (in a retail environment) about sport, and were rudely interrupted by their male counterpart that ‘women don’t know anything about football’. Not exactly true now, is it?

This next one really struck a chord with me. A woman shared her story with me of how she would go to her local bar to catch the games in her usual NFL watching garb; in this case, that would be jersey, jeans, and sneakers. She wasn’t dressed to the nines in anything flashy (not that it would matter if she was) and was accused of ‘husband-hunting’. Because how could a woman possibly want to go to a bar to just enjoy the game…. And hey, even if she was ‘husband-hunting’ there is no shame in that.

Something else that came up A LOT was that women only like American football (or certain players) because the men are ‘cute’ or ‘attractive’. Oh Please! I’m not going to deny that Jimmy G is a good looking man, but that isn’t the reason I rate him as a quarterback.

One woman took the time to explain how she was overlooked time and time again when coaching an American football team here in the UK, and now she coaches the opposition, for a team who appreciates her talents. Hats off to you and I hope you get the recognition you deserve.

I’m fortunate that the team my fiance used to play for, and the university team he now coaches, are very welcoming and open to fans of all genders from any walk of life; but it’s sad to know that this isn’t the case everywhere.

But it was not all doom and gloom. Many women told stories of how they attend games (some even go it alone) and have a great time meeting new people, men and women alike. Not to mention all the women who play the game here in the UK and abroad, both contact and flag.

Unfortunately, sexism is still rife, despite it being the 21st century, so much so that even the stars seem to forget themselves sometimes. Let me remind you of THAT Cam Newton interview a couple of years back, the one where he said it was ‘funny to hear a woman talk about routes’ when asked a question by a female journalist. Think it’s safe to say women everywhere lost a little respect for you there Cam, myself included.

Equally, on the flip side of that though, there are players like Jimmy G and George Kittle who have thrived (and greatly enjoyed) working under female coach Katie Sowers, referring to her as a ‘superstar’ among many other compliments.

On the subject of women thriving in the NFL (as I touched on at the start); week 3 marked a huge moment in history during the Cleveland vs Washington game, which saw leading women on both teams, along with a female official. This was the first time this had ever happened in the world of American football; with Callie Wilson representing the Browns, Jennifer King for the Washington Football Team, and Sarah Thomas repping the black and white stripes.

You may be wondering what I hope to get out of writing this piece, and I guess it’s pretty simple. I wanted to highlight that sometimes being a female sports fan (or indeed player) is not as plain sailing as we might like, and perhaps if you are someone who has made a daft comment in the past that you learn from your mistakes.

But I also want to celebrate the amazing women in sports, and use that to help inspire future generations. Perhaps young girls who watch the games with their parents and aspire to be a coach one day, or maybe even a player, why the heck not!

Ideally, I’d love this piece to help educate those who need it, empower those who want it, and celebrate those who deserve it.

The sporting world is full of successful women, looking at the NFL in particular there are many, including the UK’s very own Phoebe Schecter along with presenters Kay Adams and Coleen Wolfe to name but a few.

Ladies, use them as your inspiration that if you love sport, don’t let anyone dull your shine.

Article written by Kim Peach and first published on 15/10/20.

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