The XX Factor

Let’s Talk Sports, Sisters!

Paul Farhi has an interesting piece in today’s Washington Post , asking, literally, “Whither the female sports fan?” I guess the week when the U. Conn. women broke the NCAA basketball winning-streak record and six people looked up from their holiday shopping to say “Good job!” is a fine time to ask that question.

Farhi points out that not a single attempt to launch a women’s pro team sport league has succeeded thus far: “Women’s games don’t draw the crowds, the money or the media attention that even ‘minor’ sports played by men attract.” Only a couple of individual sports-basically just golf and tennis-have enough support to sustain lengthy seasons, and we only pay attention to gymnastics and figure skating in Olympic years.

There’s no arguing with that, but every woman I know is already overcommitted-there’s little chance of finding another chunk of time (much less a bunch of money) to devote to a new hobby, so the answer to “whither” is almost certainly “nowhere.”

For me, the key quote was from University of Michigan professor Andrei Markovits, who pointed out that sports is men’s common language. “It’s the only kind of discourse in which they can shed their social differences. The CEO and the janitor can talk to each other for 40 minutes about the collapse of the Giants last week. There’s nothing else that would be as pervasive or as prominent in their lives.”

I don’t quite buy that women are agile conversationalists, whereas men, the poor lugs, can only talk about sports, but I do sometimes wish we had an equivalent of the Giants, a go-to topic that CEOs and cleaning ladies could effortlessly spend 40 minutes kibitzing about. (I have a hard time imagining where either woman would find those 40 minutes, but whatever.)

At certain times in my life, I’ve been a crazed sports fan, and I have to tell you, the family of fandom-and the pleasure of feuding with rivals-is a wonderful thing. And it’s a lot easier to make common cause with people from different backgrounds and beliefs about backhands and basketball than it is about abortion and gay rights. I lived in Seattle when the University of Washington Husky women’s basketball team outdrew the men’s squad and got more attention in the local press, and you really could spend 10 minutes yacking with a stranger at the bus stop about Coach Gobrecht and her squad. As a devoted Husky fan, I felt like I was part of a bigger community, a voice in the crowd making noise to encourage a group of devoted young women who were playing for their school in the city where we all lived. Hokey but fabulous.

Well, at least we’ve still got television to talk about at the water cooler.