Give me my propers when you get home

Photo of Evan Longoria courtesy of Kelly O'Connor/ and used with permission.

Photo of Evan Longoria courtesy of Kelly O'Connor/ and used with permission.

(Warning:  It’s a long one!)

I promised myself I wouldn’t write about this because it seems that every year I write at least one entry about being a woman sports fan.  I don’t like to identify myself a solely a female fan because of the ideas that conjures.  Many people assume it means you follow sports because the guys are cute but don’t really know anything about the sports you follow.  Every year I write an entry or two and every year I explain that while I do often find athletes attractive the attraction isn’t strong enough to sustain my being a fan.  I think over the years I’ve proven that I know about baseball (and other sports) AND appreciate the men who play.

So I promised myself I wouldn’t get into this even before the season starts.  I’d really had enough of the whole sexist thing while I was at WEEI,com (not from the people I worked with, just the audience I got when I went over there.) and didn’t want to re-visit it this soon.   But yesterday over at “Big League Stew” they posted a photo and an accompanying blurb that started a bit of a heated discussion online about sexism as it relates to sports and how women fans are viewed.

The picture is adorable.  A fan gazing at Evan Longoria while he signs an autograph for her.  The blurb is a reminder that athletes mean the world to kids and shares the hope that athletes “get” that.  The headline to the piece (“It looks like somebody has a crush on Evan Longoria) is a reminder that in the world of sports women are still considered “cute” in their fandom and if a little girl looks absolutely taken with a player signing an autograph for her it has to be because she has a crush on him (crush as in “isn’t he so cute”) and it can’t be just because she’s a baseball fan delighted that a well known player on her favorite team has stopped to sign.

Anyone who goes to the ballpark knows that it’s pretty damn difficult to get an autograph, especially that of the more famous/popular players on the team.  The days in Spring Training when they’re still “training” and not yet playing the game are the favorites of the folks who travel to see them because of the access you get to the players.  That photo shows a kid excited that the likes of “Evan Longoria” has stopped to sign for her.  Based on the look she’s giving him it seems like he’s her favorite player – or one of them – but you can’t always judge entire situations by one moment in time.  (For example, the writer of that post also has a photo of Ben Zobrist signing for the same girl and the writer contends she obviously doesn’t feel the same way for poor Ben because she’s barely looking at him in the photo.  Small sample size, no?)

Listen, it’s absolutely possible that this girl has a tremendous crush on Evan Longoria.  Hell, my 8 year-old niece would run away from home today if Jacoby Ellsbury asked her to, but that same 8 year-old spends hours watching baseball (live and on television) and asking me questions about balls and strikes and, one night, the infield fly rule.  The child loves the game.  Jacoby being “cute” is, to her (and, I’d argue, most women) the cherry on the sundae.  Why should she (or that little girl or any woman) be defined by such a small part of her fandom?  Why should it be automatically assumed that the girl in that photo was crushing on Longoria the cute player and not just in awe of meeting Longoria her favorite player?

It seems innocent enough.  “Who cares if a little girl has a crush on a ball player?”  I get it.  But it isn’t.  Caryn, my friend in New York who writes the brilliant Metsgrrl, explains it perfectly (and in many online forums including Twitter and a couple of blogs that referenced this story) and is taking a lot of grief for her position on this.  As she points out, no one is thinking that the folks at “Big League Stew” purposely set out to be sexist but you could also argue that the writers didn’t think it was being sexist because it’s so damned acceptable to continue to treat women like they aren’t “real” fans.   Men constantly pepper their sports blogs with photos of naked or half-naked women who have nothing to do with “sports” and they excuse it by saying that it’s because there are more male fans than female fans and that’s just the way things are.  Women are objectified in sports (and some of them, Danika Patrick comes immediately to mind, encourage it, I’ll admit.  But most DON’T.) and women fans are in their own way as well.  Making the assumption that a girl getting an autograph from Evan Longoria is only excited because of a “crush” is the same as telling a woman you know she really only watches football because of the tight pants.  It’s an unfair inference and while one throwaway entry on a sports blog might seem harmless enough, how many of these types of things do we read and let go by and with our silence imply acceptance?  Caryn took one for the team yesterday and for that I want to thank her publicly.

I’m spoiled.  I realized that during my brief time at  The men in my life, the men I don’t know who visit my blog, they all respect me as a person.  I’ve never had to “prove” myself as a sports fan (I only bring up because, although I know the reputation of the folks who call the radio station, I was genuinely stunned by all of the “stupid cow” emails and comments I got from their listeners/readers and it took me a short while to realize that people like that are still out there).

Once on the Red Sox Fan Forum a man posted that women couldn’t have the same passion for and knowledge of baseball because they never played the game on the level of the teams they follow  (totally missing the fact that very few people, men or women, have ever played baseball on the same level as the professionals – until this was pointed out to him time and time again in the thread).  I was, naively, surprised this morning to read a comment on Caryn’s entry that reflected a similar belief:

There’s also the fact that very very very very few women—possibly none—actually do have the kind of relationships with their teams and players that millions and millions of men do. Maybe you’re the first, I dunno,

Here’s where I digress a bit. A week or so ago a woman started an account on Twitter announcing that people should read her blog because hers was the first of its kind – a blog about sports written by a woman.  She was hammered by every woman on Twitter who either blogs or writes professionally about sports.  It went viral.   Many men got involved as well.  It was both laughable and offensive to me that this person genuinely thought she was ground-breaking.  It was also a little sad.  She obviously didn’t do her homework before making this announcement but maybe part of that had to do with cursory looks on the Internet to the more popular/famous sites and not seeing women there.  She should have dug a little bit deeper (and really not that much deeper.  On my baseball/sports-related Twitter account, I follow 164 people and there are more women in that group than men.  We’re out there, you just need to find us.

This guy on Caryn’s blog “dunno” if Caryn has a relationship with her team the way men do?  That quote speaks to exactly why people like Caryn decide to speak up even when (especially when?) it’s not popular.

Caryn chose “Sometimes it feels like we’ve made no progress at all” for the title to her entry yesterday.  It bums me out that she hit the nail so squarely on its head.

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