I have this hazy memory of getting into it with a guy in a bar about soccer. I was nearly blackout drunk, bringing stolen jello shots to my friend, when I heard a man with a thick English accent say the words “Manchester United” and, due to a mix of alcohol and my undying love for Arsenal Football Club, I turned right to his face and said, “Fuck Manchester United.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, the guy’s eyes bugged out of his head; he said, “What do you know about Manchester United, love?” I let the confidence of a night of lemon drop shots and two-dollar PBRs shoot back at him, “That they fucking suck, love.” This should have spiraled into a hearty debate about which club was better, but instead turned into an interview-style grilling of my knowledge of the game — because to him, my opinion wasn’t valid until I proved that I could not only name the roster and managerial staff of my team, but his as well. He even went as far as to make me explain the fucking offsides rule.
It’s not an uncommon thing for a guy to challenge a woman about her knowledge of sports, because there’s this annoying idea that I can’t really love the game like he does. I can’t really understand the rules the way his male brain does or feel the passion that he feels for the sport; I must just like it because the guys are hot or I’m trying to impress a dude. Sometimes I wish it were that simple — maybe I’d take losses better, or spend less money on game tickets and extra sports channels.
But if it were that simple, I wouldn’t have experienced sold-out stadiums where the crowd’s like an extra man on the field. I wouldn’t have spent my late-night film classes streaming basketball games with a group of classmates in the back of the room, muffling cheers and groans as Citizen Kane played on the big screen. I wouldn’t have shed tears over late goals, both the good and the bad kinds. I wouldn’t have spent afternoons with my dad watching March Madness and scaring my mom with sporadic outbursts of cheering. I wouldn’t have the memories of hugging strangers in supporters sections or sharing the pain of a tough loss with thousands of people.
The very ideals of sport are community, pride, coming together over something shared — and the fact that male sports fans continue to perpetuate the idea that, because I’m a woman, I can’t possibly love and live for it the same way they do is infuriating. Like my biological makeup makes it impossible for me to appreciate the nuances of a game, to appreciate the ball hitting the back of the net with the perfect pace on it, or a good triple double, or hell, even something like a good two-point conversion.
Whatever it is, I’m constantly finding myself having to prove my love or my intentions. At one point in time, I used to take pride in besting the men who challenged me, but lately I do nothing but dread telling dudes I love the same sport they do, just in case they try and test me. In fact, when I started answering that English guy’s questions, I remember naming players and explaining rules, then walking away after he introduced me to his friends as, “Hey, this girl really knows her football!” I remember wishing I’d just said, “You know, I really only love Arsenal because I think Olivier Giroud is a babe,” and walked away because I am absolutely done proving myself to basic guys in bars. Plus it wouldn’t have been a complete lie; Olivier Giroud is a total babe.
Jessica lives for sports, lady athletes, and Niall Horan. She splits her time between sleeping, not living up to her potential, and copying pictures of cats for your grandmother at Staples. Find her @jessiiccaa on twitter and bbgood.tumblr.com.