Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Being a Female Sports Fan in a Man's Sports World; Dirty Laundry

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Being a Female Sports Fan in a Man's Sports World; Dirty Laundry

Article excerpt

Emily Albertson, 23, spent much of her childhood surrounded by boys obsessed with sports.

She has two brothers, and out of 15 cousins, she was the only girl. It's no surprise that she grew up to become an avid sports fan. What she didn't expect, however, was that she would be "tested" about her fandom every step of the way.

"Oh, really, you're a Tigers fan?" one of her college buddies might start. And, then she'd face questions to test her knowledge, to prove herself. And once she passed the first hurdle, the bar would be set higher for her.

Albertson, now a second-year law student at the University of Michigan, began thinking about these experiences as a Michigan student in Andrei S. Markovits' class "Sports, Politics and Society."

Together, they've written a book, "Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States," studying the phenomenon of the dedicated female fan and how she fits into a male-dominated conversation and sports culture.

Even though more female fans follow professional sports than ever before, Albertson and Markovits focus on the most devoted among them. They argue that even these "sportistas" are not fully accepted as equal-status fans by their male counterparts.

"Any in-group doesn't like newcomers," Markovits explained. And men have historically drawn the lines around sports as male territory. Female encroachment is viewed with suspicion by some. For these gatekeepers, fandom is not measured by affection or loyalty toward a team, but by knowledge of its statistics, plays and history.

The professor and student co-authors observed that, generally women and men experience spectator sports differently and speak a different language about the games they watch.

For women, it's a collective experience, Markovits says. They love a team, the players, the game itself. But once it's over, it's done.

"They'll watch ESPN while doing something else," he said. With men, however, the cerebral discussion, the pregame, the postgame, the collecting of sports knowledge, can be as important as the game itself, he said.

"For men, sports is the default language ... that's what defines your male identity," Markovits said. …

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