When you ask a woman what her favorite season is, the answer is unpredictable. She may say spring because of the beautiful weather and blooming flowers. She may say summer because of the sunny days and exciting nights. Maybe she'll proclaim fall because of the new fashion and fresh start of a new semester. And let's not forget winter for the beautiful snowfalls and meaningful holidays.
But when you ask me what my favorite season is, it's not spring, summer, fall or winter. It's not a "real" season at all. It's football season.
As a child, I could remember the excitement that flowed through my veins when football season approached. My closest cousins and my brother played the sport. Our weekends were filled with early mornings, hours on the field, and smelly car rides home. They played in the rain, sleet, and snow. They tore ligaments, sprained body parts. It was a game filled with heart and soul. The thrill of the snap, the uncertainty of fourth down with one yard to go, the showboating once the running back ran through the end zone. Every family member and fan lived vicariously through the players. It brought everyone together like nothing else. We cheered for every touchdown they made and groaned for every point they lost.
Not only was I invested in all of the games, but I played the sport every chance I got. Sometimes the neighbors joined in my family's games. With our small teams, we gave our all on that tiny little yard in the apartment complex, which couldn't have been more than 20 feet in length. Most games I'd walk away with bruises on my skin, grass stains on my jeans, leaves in my hair. I didn't think twice about doing it again.
As I got older, I grew out of my tomboy phase. I ditched the baggy sweatshirts for trendy sweaters. I threw out the mud-stained jeans for tight-fitting leggings. I became everything a "girly girl" is. When I hit high school, I could easily pass for a girl who would cry over breaking a nail. Although I had a 4.2 GPA and could throw a spiral like no other, I was seen as prissy, someone who would probably never get her hands dirty.
Because I seemed like the furthest thing from a football enthusiast, every time I did try to join a conversation about Sunday's game (which I was always tuned into), I was shrugged off or laughed at. My gender made it hard for people to take me seriously on a subject that I had a true passion for.
When my junior year came around, I was able to finally put my skills to the test and prove that I not only knew plenty about the game, but I could kick ass at it, too. We had an event for the upperclassmen girls called "Powder Puff" (don't even get me started on how outdated and sexist the name is). It was a girl's football game that you were able to participate in as a junior or senior, and it was supposed to be a role reversal: the girls play football to raise money and the guys cheerlead on the sidelines. I was absolutely ecstatic to be able to play since it was the only opportunity girls had to actually play football on our high school field. It was so much fun and such an empowering moment to see all of my fellow female classmates on the field with me, partaking in a sport labeled a "man's game."
Although we gave our all on that field and earned some pretty nasty cuts and bruises (one of my friends got the worst black eye I've ever seen), I still somehow gained no traction with the guys when it came to talking about football. We played a great game, and yet still had earned no respect. We were still denied membership into the boy's club.
What's even more bothersome than the way I was personally viewed is the way that most women are viewed when it comes to sports — football in particular. Once football season starts, the internet begins circling the jokes and memes about women who don't know what they're talking about. They joke about how girls lie about their sports knowledge just to show off for guys. Men even post screenshots catching girls in lies when they ask about statistics or specific players.
Jokes are one thing, but I have often been patronized by men who think it's impossible for a woman to have any real knowledge on the sport. Some men have gone as far as to essentially lay out a questionnaire, waiting for me to slip up. People have attempted to relieve me from my "lies" by saying, "Oh come on, you don't have to act like you care about this." Some guys have even gotten outraged because it's their sport, and it's not a woman's place to have an opinion or interest.
I grew up on football. I've grown up watching the Eagles play as if my life depends on it; I am a ride or die fan, no matter what happens every year. Even though I'm at Rutgers, which hasn't had a great record since they joined the Big 10, I'll support them at every chance I get. I genuinely look forward to the years when I can own a home and have everyone over for Sunday Night Football.
Football is more than just a "man's sport." It's a competitive game that brings people together — it brings families together. Plenty of women just like myself love and appreciate the sport. Male football fans need to stop patronizing those that do and stop trying to catch women in a lie. Just let us enjoy the sport — because we really do.