Monday, 20 April 2009

In defense of my right to like sports and Guinness: Part 1

Happy Monday! Oxymoron, you say? Not this Monday. The sun is shining today in London, and that's always cause for celebration. And it's real sunshine too - with actual warmth. Not the kind of vague, distant glow you tend to get here, as if the sun had been on a bender the night before and is up there lying on its couch, drinking Andrews and grumbling 'What do you want from me? I'm here aren't I? This is the best I can do right now!"

So here I am, raring to go following a weekend that was actually restful instead of just an extension of the work week. After I left you on Friday, I did rewatch Nacho Libre, whose song about why Ramses is not dancing at the party is still as genius as I remember. What I hadn't remembered was the random, sex-starved fat girl who eats all day and is too hideous to get a man so she has to literally crawl on her hands and knees to cut men (and Esqueleto) off at the pass, trap them and have her way with them. Aren't people tired of writing this character? Because I sure am tired of seeing it. You know, this might just be a rumour, but I'm made to understand that fat women can actually manage to find willing partners for sex if they so desire. It's one of those ideas that's so bizarre it might just be true.

Then on Saturday I went with my favourite DJ (we'll call him DJ because we have wild imaginations) to Camden, where we ate a mountain of vegan food, walked all around the market, sampled overpriced chocolate (and in his case, also a giant, jelly Smurf), and drank Guinness over a conversation about the quietly re-emerging notion that women who say they like sports are just lying to appear cool for men. That's right, folks. Join me on a journey back to the fifth century.

A few weeks ago, a woman at a message board where I post made the extremely insightful declaration that women who say they like (i) sports and (ii) Guinness are not sincere, but rather involved in an elaborate deception aimed solely at hooking themselves a fella. Given that I've been watching cricket since I found eyes in my head and consider Guinness the best food on earth, I am about to shake the foundations of her very existence. But it's not just anonymous message board lady. More and more, throughout this year's Premiership season particularly, it has seemed as if greater numbers of people are choosing a team and jumping on board. Apparently, this type of activity is frowned upon, especially - or only - when the people in question are women. DJ has been noticing it too. In fact, he brought it up, telling me about a guy he knows who is peeved to within an inch of his life when women dare to interject in sports conversations, because they're only johnny-come-latelies doing it to seem cool, and have no natural propensity to understand sports, no genuine interest in it, and nothing to add.

Now what strikes me as particularly hilarious about all this is that the man in question in DJ's story is from Barbados, just as we are. And in Barbados, we play a little of everything, but the only major sport in which we have a legitimate international presence is cricket. That means that support for teams in most sports is not home-grown, based on location or other traditional markers of loyalty. So most sports fans out there fit into two categories: they started playing the sport and were naturally drawn towards its highest exemplars on the international circuit; or they just happened along one day and decided to start watching because they found it entertaining. Neither of these groups, and particularly not the latter, has any kind of monopoly on fandom. Because if the fandom of the women you criticize is artificial, then surely so is yours, since you are not from Manchester or Liverpool and have no reason other than whim or circumstance for the team with which you are aligned. Just because someone is turned onto a sport after you have been doesn't make their admiration of it any less valid. The portal has not closed. New fans are born every day.

And the sports themselves have gone through trends in popularity. When I was growing up, it seemed like none of my peers cared or talked about cricket. The cricket team couldn't pay people to come with them to away matches, get-out-of-class-early pass be damned. NBA basketball was huge, as was track and field. Now, as with several other things, people's scope of interest is growing. And sport trends are changing. Basketball will always have its fans, but football is becoming that sport: the one that everyone has a team in. This is the way, and you don't get to pout about it because some woman dares to share an interest that you think you have dibs on as a marker of your manhood.

And I'm not sure what makes these particular men, some of whom have the agility of porridge and whose most energetic exploits to date are a game or two of Snakes and Ladders, any more disposed to appreciating sports than women are. Agility, strategy, speed, raw skill, camaraderie, politics: these are all aspects of sport that women appreciate. There are three major sports that I follow closely and enjoy: cricket from about the age of 4 introduced by my dad (who incidentally learnt from his mother); tennis from about age 11 introduced as part of the school programme and aided by a good friend at the time who would become a longtime partner; and football from about 12 years ago when I started playing competitively. And to be frank, I've never been inclined to talk to most men about sports. And here's why: I'm not interested in being fodder for your masculine self-affirmation; what I'm after is a real, analytical conversation. So if you can only quote me all of Michael Ballack's defensive stats and tell me how many eggs he had for breakfast on the day of his last match with Bayern, and that is your sole 'argument', then you can move along. I can memorize stats too. That's not what my love of the game is about. And I've found that quite a few men who have come late to following a sport, but who of course are not questioned on the validity of their support, often hide behind statistics, and use them to shout others down before the others realize that in fact, the shouter only discovered what 'offside' was yesterday. Incidentally, most of the men with whom I enjoy a heated sporting debate tend to be secure, well-adjusted people who don't fancy using conversation to try and surreptitiously bully women into accepting their 'rightful place.' Funny how that happens.

Now the whole 'women in sports' dialogue is complex, and there are certain things I'm not discussing here. I am not debating whether statistically more men than women follow sports: I think there is a discussion to be had on how we might express interest differently so that women's interest is sometimes not acknowledged as such, but I feel safe in saying that the number of men I know who enjoy sports is greater than the number of women, although among my Barbadian friends, with our cricket legacy, that gap starts to close somewhat. I am not debating whether women's professional leagues are as entertaining and therefore should attract similar levels of investment as men's. I'm contemplating a follow-up post in which I might address that. And I'm not saying that there are no women who have ever said, jokingly or otherwise, that they only watch football to see men's legs, or baseball for the tight pants. This is something I also want to come to later because when I started this post the sun was high in the sky and now it's almost dinnertime. The thing is way too long. But this is about the ludicrous notion that if you meet a woman who supports a given sports team, odds are, she's lying and is just saying it to seem cool (beyond the extent to which we all use knowledge of competition as a point of social engagement with other men and women). We know you would like to believe you're that central to our lives, but the plain truth is, you really aren't.


  1. You're a Gunners fan? Oh, dear. And I liked you *so* much, too. ;)

    Love and respect,

    A Spurzgrrl

  2. Well, Mongoose, this post is - as my old man would say about my mother's cooking - up to your usual standards.

    First - Pete! Peeeeeeete! Come back, man! You still got some good years left in you! Pete Sampras is still the greatest tennis player this world has seen. As I said while Federer was still in form, and everyone was treating him as though McEnroe, Becker and Agassi should be carrying his bags - it is winning through adversity that makes you great, not raw talent. It is pushing through leg cramps at 5-5 in the fifth. It is playing while unfit, after injury or surgery. It is finding a way to win when you can't seem to buy a first serve. That is what separates the sheep from the goats. Time will tell whether my boy Rog (whom I still favour over Nadal) has what it takes to pick himself up from what seems to be a largely mental slump, brush off his whites vigorously, and regain #1. Time will tell if he qualifies as one of the great ones; right now he doesn't.

    As for the idea that women only pretend to like sports, that is barely worth discussion. It was my mother, not my father, who introduced me to test match cricket at Kensington Oval - and this was long before the party stand. You know, back in the days when you went to cricket to watch cricket.

    The question of the extent to which investment in sports should be based on the "quality" of the game (which in turn might be based on gender) is trickier. I'm looking forward to the comments of the fair Mongoose.

    Last - Pete! You hear me? We want you back.


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