So. This doesn't happen all the time. But it happens a lot.
I get quite a bit of surprised responses when folks find out that I'm an avid sports fan. An incredulous "You really know your shit," says someone, or maybe, more derisively, "Where did that come from?" Or else, I get a well-meaning affirmation that I'll make some guy very lucky (presumably because the guy will get to share his presumed sports fandom with his girlfriend).
These are the reactions that come from folks who simply don't expect females to know much about sports. But there's another kind of surprised response that I get from progressive friends who don't buy into sports and, especially, sports culture. They will point out that the sports world is saturated with macho posturing. It frequently excuses the bad behavior of its heroes; it celebrates brute force; it's history is poisoned by cheating and drug-use; and it is often actively and explicitly hostile to women.
How, these friends wonder, can I get into it? How could I possibly reconcile my feminism with it?
Well, folks, I do, and quite passionately so. (Though of course I have my eyes wide open; it is because of my love of sports that I intend to not ever justify the worst of it).
Why that love? I offer a Top Ten list as my feminist case for why sports are so meaningful and so much fun ... coming to you in a series of parts:*
10. SPORTS ARE COMMUNITY-BUILDING
Funny for an activity that is grounded in competition, but it's true. Cities cohere around their sports teams. You see this in the language: "We won on Sunday," or "We have to find a new second-basemen for next season." That "we" speaks of collective self-identification ... and it is something special and rare.
People who live in different neighborhoods, who are accustomed to seeing themselves as enemies of each other (if they see each other at all), find themselves on the same side as fans (even if they are casual fans). In Detroit, where I live, I've celebrated basketball and hockey championships--and to see so many different people emerge from their homes and cars, to hug each other and high-five and celebrate--my god, that kind of communal joy brings me to tears.
A USA Today report, following the Detroit Pistons' NBA championship win over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004, is indicative of the community spirit and identity that comes through sports:
The win triggered celebrations at the Pistons' arena and on streets around the region. ...
Hundreds of people cheered and danced in downtown Detroit within minutes of the game's end. The crowd was orderly amid a heavy police presence.
"Ain't no party like Detroit party 'cause Detroit party don't stop,'" the celebrants chanted.
David Willis played a celebratory saxophone in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue outside Detroit's city hall. The statue has been wearing a giant Pistons jersey during the finals.
"It's a dream come true for me," Willis said.
Downtown streets remained crowded into the early morning as drivers honked horns while their passengers leaned from windows and stood in sunroofs waving at fellow fans.
And it's not just about championships. Even when sports teams stink, they build community. Case in point: the Detroit Lions, which has won one football game (1) in the last two seasons (so far), with the 2008 season being the worst in NFL history. The Lions have won a single playoff game in more than five decades. They are not a good team. And yet: this divided region is loyal. The Lions still sell out Ford Field (and this in a region that is hurting economically more than most). Detroiters speak harshly about the Lions, but the point is, they care. The community holds on because of that collective self-identification. Other case in point: the Chicago Cubs, the "lovable losers" who haven't won the World Series in 101 years, the longest stretch in baseball. And how passionate are Cubs fans? How intense is the community that buoys the team? I'll tell you: so intense. Cubs fans, incidentally, attend more road games than any other MLB team.
This community-building through sports works on a micro level too. Through conversations about sports, I have connected with an untold number of people--whether it is folks I see in a bar one night, or whether it is folks that I'm building a lasting friendships with. And, as is quite apparent in the meta-narratives told about sports (see: "Field of Dreams"), generations of families have communicated, and loved each other, through the language of sports ... whether it is parents coaching their kids or a reason to visit with one another on a Tuesday evening.
Sports, ultimately, is about people, a way our society has made of being together, and I'm damn happy to participate.
About the Images: Top photo pictures the 1977 championship parade for the Portland Trail Blazers. Side photo pictures the Detroit Free Press coverage of the 2008 NHL championship of the Red Wings... which was "our" eleventh time winning it all.
*My list is primarily focusing on professional sports... though I trust you smart people can extrapolate easily enough about how this same feminist reasoning applies to collegiate, school, community, and youth leagues.