One of the best days of my year is baseball’s opening day. The excitement that built up over the past six months of waiting for my favorite sport to return has finally bubbled over, and I can hear the familiar sounds of the Fox Sports Midwest announcers calling Cardinals games once more.
I’ve been a sports fan for much of my life, although I did resist as a young child. It took long summer nights in 2004 to teach me to love baseball, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve since picked up a love for football, college basketball and tennis, but baseball will always be my first love.
It might come as a surprise to you that although I fancy myself a feminist, I’m also a huge sports fan. Often, these two passions of mine don’t seem to go together. A lot of the characteristics of professional sports seems to fly in the face of what feminists believe. The sporting world is one of macho chauvinism, in which athletes — specifically male athletes — are likened to gods and given an immeasurable amount of social capital with which to rule.
Successful athletes are heralded for their triumphs and are often put on a pedestal that allows them to be forgiven for breaking the rules, and often the law. What’s a feminist sports fan to do when so many athletes who are accused of sexual assault are never found guilty, or worse, never even taken to trial, like in the case of Kobe Bryant?
But I’ve always believed that my own journey as a feminist should be without rigid rules, so I continue to watch sports because I love them. And I wish more women did, too.
Perhaps the barriers to attracting female sports fans starts with the media. Women aren’t the voice behind most of the media sports fans consume. Only 11.7 percent of American sports reporters are women, and there are even fewer female sports editors, at 9.7 percent.
And here’s the thing that really gets me: only 9.7 percent of sports columnists are women. That means those writers who are providing sports commentary for all fans are doing it almost exclusively from the male perspective. My own hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch doesn’t have a single female sports writer. I read the Cardinals coverage every morning, and every single article is written by a man.
Here’s the thing: just like women are watching movies, we’re also watching sports.
Women comprise about half of all American sports fans. Forty-seven percent of Major League Baseball fans are female, and women make up 44 percent of National Football League fans.
So why do sports teams give up such a huge opportunity for marketing? Well, like always, it has to do with women in positions of power. And in the professional sports business, women aren’t making it to the top.
In the MLB, women made up 35.6 percent of the 435 front-office employees. That number is actually a two-percent decrease from 2012. In the NFL, the situation is even worse, with only 20 percent of senior administrator positions being held by women.
If professional sports teams were smart, at least half of their senior staff would be women, because women know how to reach other women. They’ll be able to market a team in a way that a group of men just won’t be able to.
They’ll know that women don’t want to wear pink sports gear, because their team’s colors are not pink. They’ll understand that women’s T-shirts should have the team’s name on them in the correct font, not in some girly script that isn’t part of the team’s official logo.
They’ll understand that some women (myself included) want to wear a women’s-cut jersey in the appropriate team colors. And other women will want to wear the same jersey as men.
We also need women in the newsroom covering sports. We need women to hold male athletes accountable for their actions, especially when those include sexual assault and rape.
I will never stop loving baseball, but I would love it a little bit more if I knew women were at the top right alongside the men, helping shape the sport I love.