It is once again sportsball season, y’all.
Believe it or not, folks, I actually played basketball as a child… for two years. I can’t say I hated it as much as softball, but I did hate it. You see, I was never an athletic child. On the contrary, I was an asthmatic child. I was an overweight child. I was a creative child. While my parents made mistakes, I don’t actually think that putting me in sports was a notable one. That’s what suburban families do… play sports. No, their mistake was not reading their child, pinpointing her skills, and playing to them, which was honestly a lot to ask of parents in the 90s. I mean, who doesn’t want to play softball and basketball and volleyball!?!?!
It started with softball… the worst sport of all time. I literally had to sit on the bench and wait my turn to play this terrible game. Then I had to stand in the hot sun and wait my turn to play this terrible game. The fact that baseball is America’s past time is just a testament to our laziness, as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all. The only thing duller, is watching as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all.
Jake: “My cousin was wondering if we wanted to watch the girls’ play softball this weekend.”
Me: “No. I don’t love you that much.”
Despite my general lack of athletic, social, or teamwork skills, year after year, I was enrolled in sports. There was softball and then basketball, even an awful year as the fat cheerleader for my brother’s youth football team. When middle school started, I went to a single football game as a member of “Spirit Club,” made it through four volleyball practices, and spent a half semester in an obligatory P.E. class before I finally accepted the truth: I… kinda hate sports.
Folks, this realization occurred the year Varsity Blues was released; when we were all watching Hillary Duff pine over 23-year-old high school football player, Chad Michael Murray, who couldn’t even bring himself to defend her when she was publicly humiliated by his friends; when movies about stereotypical popular boys daring to date frumpy versions of Mandy Moore and Rachel Leigh Cook were all the rage. Long before the rise of nerd culture, when intellect and fandoms became cool, that’s when I chose to hate sports in a suburban public school system.
While I am, overall, more active and athletic these days, as with any other form of post traumatic stress, I still don’t have particularly warm feelings about sports. In fact, it wasn’t until graduate school that I developed an interest in football, as a student of a state college with a Division I team… I think. I just Googled that. My Gramma has always been passionate about my college team, however, and for once in my life, I felt like I actually had a stake in whether or not they won, beyond pleasing my namesake. So for a couple of years, I followed them as an avid fan… at least until the coach allowed a player who was publicly violent toward women to remain on the team and my deeply buried feminist boycotted the entire team until the coach retired… for five years.
Since I haven’t had cable in years, I now only watch the games when I can get them via antenna or through a free Hulu + Live TV trial. Regardless, I must maintain a relationship with sports… because I got married.
Jake: ::struts out in his Letterman’s jacket:: “You totally wanna have sex with me right now, don’t you?”
Me: “You look like Uncle Rico.”
Y’all, my husband is my favorite person in the whole world, but sometimes I marvel at how we even work. He was the pickup truck and Letterman’s jacket to my turtleneck and overalls. He can do a toe touch at 35 and I once hit my head on the bathroom counter trying to put on a sock. I remember the time I went on a date with a guy who loved anime, which left me scratching my head about how a grown man could be so obsessed with cartoons… but I’m similarly baffled by the passion Jake’s family has for sports. Like, they know it’s literally a game right… the way that croquet and Mario Kart 8 and beer pong are games? Jake, at least, would probably argue for the skill involved in all three, but I’m pretty sure he’d be the only Granger claiming as much. Regardless of my confusion, however, I’m frequently obligated, this time of year, to cheer on my nieces at their basketball games. Folks, if I thought watching skilled adults play sports was boring…
How are so many parents putting their children in sports, when it means they actually have to watch children play sports?!?! That’s like listening to kids read aloud! Children doing boring things badly is just more boring! Fortunately for me, since my mind tends to never shut down, I’m actually fairly good at being bored. Sitting still for 45 minutes, pretending that I’m not tuning in and out of the game to plan next week’s grocery list, mentally decorate the guest bathroom, or debate whether or not Harry and Ginny were a natural progression is not a challenge for me. What is a challenge for me, however, is the inherent sexism that’s still ingrained in K-12 sports.
Me: “Why are they called the ‘Lady Eagles’?”
Jake: “Because it’s the girls’ team?”
Me: “Right, but a female eagle is just called an eagle. Why can’t they just be the Eagles?”
Jake: “They have to differentiate them from the boys’ team.”
Me: “Okay, so does that mean the boys are the Gentlemen Eagles?”
Jake: “What? No. They’re just the Eagles.”
Me: “That’s bullshit! Why do the girls get the only qualifier?”
Jake: “They just have to tell the teams apart.”
Me: “Why? They’re not playing each other.”
Jake: “It’s for schedules and reports and stuff.”
Me: “Fine. Call it ‘Boys’ Basketball Schedule’ and ‘Girls’ Basketball Schedule’. Color code it or use a different font. Problem solved… multiple times… without sexism.”
Jake: “I cannot believe that this is your hill to die on, when you don’t even like sports. Why are you getting so mad?”
Me: “Because you have a Real Basketball Team and a Gal’s Basketball Team. It completely diminishes their sport!”
Jake: “Men’s sports do make more money than women’s sports.”
Me: “Not in middle school! Exactly zero of these kids are ever going to play pro anything. If they did, they’d still get a real team name.”
How are we still doing this!?!? I have never even played school sports and this has always infuriated me! I understand separating the boys’ team from the girl’s team, once puberty hits. Scientifically speaking, most boys have a physical advantage at this point. That doesn’t mean they get dibs on the qualifier-free team name, that they get to be the Real Team! There is either “Boys’ Basketball” and “Girls’ Basketball” or “Just Fucking Basketball.” In fact, I would quite prefer to put my daughter in a jersey that reads “Just Fucking Basketball” than one that reads “Sports, but for Girls.”
Part of the reason I struggle to take sports as seriously as Southern America seems to think I should, is because of the mandatory arbitrary sexual divide. We raise girls to be strong and fast and athletic, only to simultaneously send the message that they’re still the B team. We put them in softball, instead of baseball. We dress the male cheerleaders in pants and shirts and the female cheerleaders in rebranded Twin Peaks uniforms. We give the school field to the boys’ team and send the girls to a public park.
In the South, we talk ceaselessly about the benefits of athletics to all kids, from lower obesity and teen pregnancy rates to higher test scores and leadership skills. Then we treat the girls’ team as a visitor’s team, even when they’re not. When they get older, if they’re lucky enough to be truly competitive, we’re shocked, just shocked, that there’s less turnout for their games and interest in their sports, as a whole. Would calling the 7th grade girls’ basketball team the Eagles, as opposed to the Lady Eagles, make anyone more likely to show up to their games 10 years later? I don’t know, but we could try. We could start taking them as seriously as the Gentlemen Eagles.
Sports have never been my jam. Academia is my jam. It’s intelligence and research skills and forming a strong argument and being well-read. You know what, though? I’ve never felt that being female diminished my value in this regard, from my Pre-AP English class in the 9th grade to the system-wide manager meetings I attended a few years ago. In my industry, I am rarely the smartest person in the room, but it’s an understood coin toss as to whether the person who is, is male or female. Academia doesn’t care if you brought a penis to the party, as long as you brought citations. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why I’ve always felt more at home among intellectuals than athletes… that and the relentless bullying from the latter, of course. Value and skill are based on merit, not some archaic gender standard. There are no Lady Intellectuals and if you were to print up gear titling them as such, they’d intellectually eviscerate you.
Me: “So what’s the other team called?”
Jake: “They’re the Elks.”
Me: “So, what, they’re the Lady Elks?”
Jake: ::laughing at me:: “I don’t know. A female Elk is called a cow. Do you want to call them the Cows?”
Me: “If it means they get their own damned title, then sure.”
Me: ::leaning over to a teenager nearby:: “Hey. What is the girls’ team called?”
Teen: “They’re the Elkettes.”