This opinion piece is written by Emma Knights, our guest writer and New England Patriots fan.
Sport has always been male dominated whether that’s in terms of those playing the sport or those watching and American football is no different. While this is a problem in itself, the more pressing problem lies in the culture it creates. One where women feel out of place and even in some cases unsafe. In my experience, this leads to women taking one of two stances: they either dive deeper into the sport determined not to let anything get in their way, or they abandon the sport before they even give it a chance. As a result, sports begin to lose one area of its fan base – ‘casual’ female fans.
Let me explain…
To explain the problem, we first have to look at what a ‘casual’ fan is. To me a casual fan is someone with an interest in the game beyond just “I’ll watch it if its on”. They may follow a team or check the scores the following day. What they won’t be able to do is name large parts of a team’s roster or intricately explain the catch rule (though in fairness even the NFL struggle to do this). This is where the problem lies for female fans. Whereas the first question a man may be asked after saying he watches the NFL is often something like “what team do you support?”, women are often quizzed on their knowledge further creating the divide within the fanbase. In short, men are almost always instantly accepted as fans regardless of their knowledge whereas women have a pressure to prove themselves – something very off putting for women with only a casual interest.
American Football is still a developing sport within the UK
The problem is heightened as American Football is still a developing sport within the UK and other areas outside of the USA and as a result, many fans of the game are latecomers – I hadn’t even watched a game until I was 15. This means the fanbase has a lot of new fans who will start with the limited knowledge of the game that most fans who weren’t raised on NFL do. For the game to continue to develop, these new casual fans need to be accepted into the community and given the chance to develop a further interest in the sport or, if they don’t want to, still be accepted as a casual fan.
More still needs to be done…
Of course, many of the American Football Community are incredibly welcoming to all fans but more still needs to be done. Gatekeeping of the sport disproportionately affects women. Debate is okay, but if you disagree with someone’s view, present your own in a respectful way. You can criticise an opinion without criticising the persons knowledge of the sport. Encourage female opinions even those which may seem basic. Remember just because someone doesn’t want to know every detail about a sport, doesn’t mean they can’t still be a fan.
This opinion piece is written by guest, Emma Knights. Emma is a New England Patriots fan, and you can follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaKnights13.