My Struggle to Love Football When It Doesn’t Love Women Back

I didn’t grow up watching football. My high school was too small to field a team, so I didn’t spend any Friday nights under stadium lights. My dad hates sports, and he never wanted to be that guy who ignores his family to watch a sporting event. He was a cheerleader at the University of Arkansas and always jokes he did it so he’d have an excuse to turn his back on the game. I don’t think I watched an entire football game until college, not even a Super Bowl.

It was my grandmother who exposed me to sports. She lived in Memphis and took us to Grizzlies and University of Memphis Tigers games all the time. Her house was filled with Razorback paraphernalia, but still I ignored football for basketball because it was something for us to share. Until I left for college at Mississippi.

All my friends watched football because there’s nothing else to do in Mississippi, and I wanted to hang out with my friends. Identifying as a Mississippi State or Ole Miss fan was a dividing line on Saturdays. Since I’m from Arkansas, I felt like I had to care about my home team since no one else around me did. But I still had no idea what was going on on the field, and I didn’t want to be “that girl” asking questions every five seconds.

So the next time I went to see my grandmother, I turned on a football game and made her explain it to me. She was my teacher, my coach, and I never thought that was weird because it was my normal. At the time, my sister was also at Ole Miss, so we started going to some games which further fueled my interest.

Once I started watching games regularly, I quickly grew to love this new (to me) sport. At first, I just loved that it was something else I could share with my grandmother, and eventually, my mom. Now, I love the juxtaposition between finesse and strength, soft touches and hard hits. Even more, I love the lesson my grandmother left with me—that girls can be knowledgeable about sports too.

But it took a long time to realize this sport I had grown to love didn’t love me back.

I had some inklings when I would shop for team gear and every selection in the female section was pink as if a girl would have no interest in her team’s colors. I had more inklings when I finally got enough confidence to talk about football with “the guys” and was largely ignored. Eventually I stopped talking about it because I was tired of both the shocked looks when I dared to have an opinion about football and the silence when I dared to disagree.

So I was silent for a long time. So silent, I didn’t immediately chase my dream of working in football because I didn’t want to have to deal with any more looks or silence.

But then things started happening that I couldn’t remain silent about. Even if it made the looks and the incredulity come back.

I couldn’t be silent when video surfaced of Ray Rice beating his girlfriend; I couldn’t be silent when Baylor athletes were creating a culture of sexual assault in Waco; I couldn’t be silent when Joe Mixon broke a woman’s bones but was still a round 2 pick in the NFL draft. I realized I couldn’t be silent anymore because my silence was hurting people.

You see, I’m a girl who loves football, but it doesn’t always love me back. It shows me again and again and again that it values aggression and violence above all else. Even if that violence happens off the field. But it’s just an inconsequential woman getting hurt; this man makes his team millions of dollars, so who cares? Right?

Well, I care. I love football, but I don’t love when it overlooks abusers for dollar signs. I’ll keep watching football because these men don’t represent every football player. But I won’t be silent anymore. Not until football learns to value the women who love it and the women who love its athletes. I’m sick of the unrequited love, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask.