Why the Baseball Boyfriend Fantasy Game Does Not Hit the Mendoza Line
Two years and a month ago, I hopped on a plane to Florida to visit my brother, go to a Spring Training game, and visit my grandmother. The trip was blissfully peaceful and uneventful; it was the first time I had seen my brother in some months and the first time I had seen my grandmother in almost three years. The second-to-last night of the trip, she took the two of us out to dinner, and while I dined on steamers and south Florida's finest cuisine, she told us about growing up a stone's throw from Yankee Stadium as a child, and then, come her senior year in high school, cutting class to go to Ebbets Field to see the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers win the NL pennant. She could, almost 70 years later, still name the entire roster from memory.
For the life of me, I can't figure where or how it was written that women were not supposed to be sports fans, that they were only supposed to like the teams their fathers or husbands liked, or that fantasy leagues and advanced statistical analysis was beyond their grasp. I assumed that my grandmother liked the Dodgers because she spent most of her teenage years in Brooklyn, and I took her at her word when she said football and baseball were her favorite sports because she enjoyed the strategy aspect, where one had to think about the next move, not unlike a chess game.
The thing that bugs me, though, is not so much that the big professional sports organizations have only just grasped the fact that nearly half of their fan base is female; it's that they still assume women are interested only because their husbands or boyfriends are, or for the theoretical sex appeal. It's not that baseball's decided to market apparel to women that annoys me; it's that it has to be pink. Women who live in the United States might have it better than others, but even in 2012, we still have to fight the cultural bias, the idea that the only way women can be involved in sports is as a cheerleader or wife.
When we raise our daughters we can point to examples of women who have been doctors, lawyers, diplomats or CEOs, but Major League Baseball is still waiting for its first female general manager (given that female journalists weren't even allowed into baseball clubhouses until the late 1970s, perhaps this is not so surprising, and bias against women reporters is still endemic).
Listen, I can't pinpoint any one exact reason I developed an interest in sports, and in baseball in particular, but liking sports because I wanted to be liked by guys, or just because I found the athletes attractive, was never among them. My interest in sports didn't develop in spite of my gender or because of it; it developed because I like competition and happened to latch onto teams that won games on occasion (well, most of them, anyway). I was never much of an athlete, but when my rec basketball team won the town's championship, I felt like I had conquered the world.
I'm not naive enough to think that one blog post can change the cultural perception, but it also doesn't need to be a giant obstacle that can't be overcome. If you're looking for a way to bond with your daughter, take her to a game. If she starts talking about xFIP and WAR, encourage it; don't start asking her which player she'd most like to date. Most important of all, don't ever make her feel as though her gender means she can't be a sports fan (or that she can't do anything she wants to), and then maybe, just maybe, when she's in her late 80s and she's telling her stories to her grandkids, they'll care about the stories and not that it was a woman that told them.