I get asked this question a lot, whether it’s someone who knows me fairly well and has simply never inquired, or someone new I’ve met that’s noticed my relative ignorance towards the NHL and MLS despite greatly enjoying hockey and soccer. It’s kind of irritating on its face. Why not women’s sports? Why, in a world disproportionately full of men coaching women’s teams is it strange for a man to enjoy watching them?
It’s a rhetorical question with the unfortunate answer being that men’s sports are often considered the default and women’s sports something extra.
But, seriously, why women’s sports?
The one-sentence answer is that women’s sports largely lack the things that make men’s sports bad and have several things that makes them great. (Like hitting, fighting, and flopping.) I rarely encounter homophobia when cheering on women’s teams. Quite the opposite, there are several out players and the teams and leagues often make a concerted effort to court LGBTQ fans. In men’s sports there are more homophobic and transphobic slurs and behavior than I can count from the fans, from the players, and from the organizations themselves.
There’s also a lot less rampant misogyny in women’s sports. Go figure! Unfortunately women’s sports do still have significant issues with athletes of color and racism as a whole, but there’s a sense that there are at least a few people within women’s sports that are receptive to changing that.
In men’s sports, for me, a pansexual polyamorous individual heavily interested in the stories and success of women, LGBTQ, and athletes of color, there is just no one to root for. There are no teams that are socially progressive, there are no athletes worth standing behind. None. There are only teams and individuals that are less bad than the rest of them.
Women’s sports have figures like Jessica Fishlock, who works with Athlete Ally, and Megan Rapinoe, who managed to make a nationally heard statement on behalf of supporting people of color while attempting to avoid centering herself.
“My impact right now is being able to have conversations in my community,” Rapinoe said. “I live in a very white world, and I think the conversations I have been able to open up just with my family and my friends and the people around me and the people I work with has been tremendous. I feel like that’s my part right now.
“Ultimately I would like to be involved in any way I can and be an ally and use my platform or use the resources I have to shed light on the issues and then go past that. It’s really not about having just one conversation. It really is about the next step and what can we do to sort of break down some of these prejudices and some of these injustices that are happening and really move forward.”
“I want people to know that while it’s considered a disability, it’s not,” Pickett said. “I can do anything that anyone else can do. There hasn’t been one thing I haven’t been able to do without my arm. You can always fight through it. You can always figure out a way.
“It’s an awesome thing to achieve something somebody else doesn’t think you could. You hear that a lot. It’s kind of a cliché. But it’s true. Many people are going to doubt you because they don’t understand. But stick with it, and know you can do it higher than any expectations.”
There’s Kelsey Koelzer who’s talked about being a woman of color in hockey.
“I personally don’t know that I’ve played against many African-American people growing up,” Koelzer said recently after a game at Princeton, where she is captain. “I really do take pride in the fact that I could be a mentor and a model for other young girls, to see it really is possible if you put the work in no matter your situation or where you’re from.”
There are so many likable athletes, and so many inspiring stories to support and get behind. There’s a sense that I, a queer person, actually matter to these leagues and teams. The vast majority of my experience with men’s sports has been exclusion.
Shortly after the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Seattle Reign and Houston Dash stood in a circle at midfield in a moment of silence. I’ve never seen something like that anywhere in men’s sports and it looks increasingly doubtful that I ever will.