BROOKLYN, New York (WOMENSENEWS)--I heard a group of guys talking about me as I passed them in the bodega.
"Don't mess with her, she plays with the men," said one, loudly enough for me to hear, in a tone of mocking awe. "That's one tough girl," agreed another, in the same taunting way.
At the time of all this I was, indeed, carrying a football, and yes, I had a small urge to hurl it at both of them. But I controlled myself, knowing full well by now that to roam about on a Saturday morning, equipped and ready for a pick-up game on my New York college campus, is to make myself a bit of a gender anomaly.
But as Americans prepare for the vast, annual huddle around the TV this Sunday, I think it's time to reveal a national secret. "Pssst, pass it down . . . lots of women really like football!"
In 2002, 50 million women religiously watched professional sports. And, according to Scarborough Sports Marketing in New York, among those women, football was their favorite sport. (The findings confirmed the results of an ESPN poll in 2001.)
Andrew Rohm, a professor of marketing at Boston's Northeastern University, offers another eyebrow-raiser. He says that 40 million women tuned into the 2003 Super Bowl; 10 million more than watched the Academy Awards that year.
My love of football definitely comes from my father. The sport gave us something to talk about and to do together.
Originally from western Pennsylvania, an area where football is a way of life, my father grew up like nearly every other boy his age, watching and playing the game with his brother in the backyard and, later, moving on to high school and collegiate levels.
An All-American athlete in college in the 1970s, my father played left offensive tackle, a position that gets little recognition but requires great strength and foresight. He revered players such as Jerry Kramer, the right guard for the Green Bay Packers during the coaching era of Vince Lombardi. (The Packers won five national titles under Lombardi, two of which, in 1967 and 1968, were the very first two Super Bowls ever played.)
And so my sister and I were raised watching video after video of games from "back then." On Sundays, in our rural home east of Pittsburgh, we'd watch the Steelers play, win or lose, until the clock ran out. Then we'd throw the ball around in the backyard, pretending we were Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann. He threw, I ran, I caught. "Picture time," we would call this.
Football is of course considered so masculine because of its physical intensity. Unlike Harvard President Lawrence Summers' suggestion that women are the weaker sex when it comes to math and science, football constantly reminds us that we are the weaker sex when it comes to bodies slamming into one another, head-on and at full force.
In other words, yes, let's face it, we have less testosterone. But that doesn't mean we can't still compare ourselves to the players or play and enjoy the game.
For proof of that, I give you a great female sideline reporter, Bonnie Bernstein on CBS.
Her work attire excludes cleavage or bright blue eye shadow. Instead, she accessorizes for each game with a microphone, a cute hat on cold days and extensive, strategic knowledge of the game.
Bernstein's relentless passion and intelligence about the game have proven that, although women may not be physically equal to professional players, many are capable and willing to appreciate the sport as respectably as any man.
"These sportscasters have proved that women can be fixtures on N.F.L. sidelines without hot pants and pompoms," Douglas Century wrote in a 2000 article in The New York Times. "And they've begun to attract new female viewers by showing that women can be just as obsessive about football as men can be."
Despite my distance from home these college days, I still try to make it back for a game or two each season. There's nothing quite like walking across the famous yellow bridges of Pittsburgh in frigid temperatures to sit in the nosebleed section of Heinz Field and watch my beloved Steelers.
Another Fan Catches Her Eye
Just last year, fulfilling this ritual, a nearby man caught my eye. How could I help noticing him? His face was painted half black and half gold, the team colors. He wore a hat fashioned to look like a piece of steel that covered a few remaining wiry strands of hair as he devoured two loaded hot dogs that rested atop his well-developed beer belly.
Now that man, you could say, is a football fan.
Somehow, I doubt that he ever played the game with much skill. But I imagine that, like me, he has grown up religiously watching the Steelers every Sunday after church let out, then continuing the game with his father in the backyard, dad passing, son catching.
I imagine, in other words, that he and I are quite alike in many ways.
I too have experienced football that way. I too enjoy painting my face to show my fanatical loyalty. I too can down multiple loaded hot dogs without coming up for a breath. And I too am able to appreciate the game fully.
In fact, every time I go home, my father and I still play in the backyard. And when he spirals the ball over a branch of our oak tree and I make that especially good catch, it's still "picture time."
Kara Falchini attends Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. Disheartened that the Steelers, aren't in the game, she'll be rooting against Pittsburgh's home-state rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.
For more information:
NFL Women: the Experience from Her Point of View:
National Women's Football Association:
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