It’s a beautiful, crisp Sunday afternoon in the middle of America. Grandpa has the Webber grill sizzling out on the patio, burgers and brats ready to go. Aunts and uncles are gathered in the living room, alternately cheering and screaming at the action on the television set. Us kids zip through the house, grab a snack and head back outside to play. Suddenly, the room erupts in enthusiastic whoops and shouts as The Green Bay Packers’ receiver catches the ball and races for the end zone.
This is what a football game meant to me as a kid. It was more than just players on a field scoring touchdowns and tackling each other. It was a family event. Back then it didn’t matter that I was the one girl in a gaggle of male cousins. I passed and tackled right along with them as we tried to emulate the players we saw on the screen. Imagine my disappointment when I found out I would never be eligible to win a Vince Lombardi trophy.
I got over it. But I’ve never gotten over my enjoyment of the game. As I got older, I started to understand the plays and strategies more. I whooped and hollered along with my mom when it looked like a touchdown was imminent. I shook my head in disbelief when the receiver fumbled a pass.
Then, sometime around the mid-90s, I moved out and discovered that watching a football game outside of my family’s sphere was a whole different experience. When I went to sports bars, guys assumed I was just there with a boyfriend, or worse, that I was there to take their drink order. I couldn’t possibly like the game myself. They gawked in disbelief when I argued about the merits of a play. Then, they usually tried to buy me a drink.
These days, its a lot more common to see women supporting their favorite teams at games and shouting at the TV over a basket of buffalo wings and a bottle of Budweiser. Its now estimated that 45 percent of NFL fans are women, according to NFL consumer products.
Gone are the days when I had to look for a Brett Favre jersey that might fit me in the boys section of a sporting goods store. I can get all kinds of team gear designed for me, in actual team colors (not pink sparkles). A girl likes to feel attractive while jumping up and down wearing her cheese-head hat.
There are a slew of women-run sports blogs out there now and female anchors on ESPN are no longer a novelty. “Girl’s night out” could mean chardonnay at a favorite restaurant or it could be a night out at the local sports bar. We even play fantasy football now.
Women at sporting events are still a novelty to some, but our numbers are growing. We are not just showing up to the game to appease a boyfriend. We are actually deeply invested in our team’s performance.
When I go out to see a game now, I do feel less like a lonely Packer fan lost in Chicago and more like one of the team. Being a fan should be like having a great big, extended family. And after all, watching the game is a family event.