The Latest Sports Media Guy Conversation is with Dr. Anne Osborne, an associate professor at Syracuse University (where she served on my dissertation committee) and co-author (with Dr. Danielle Coombs) of the new book: Female Fans of the NFL: Taking Their Place in the Stands. Anne is one of the smartest people I know, and we had a great conversation about fandom, media, and college football:
On the genesis of the book:
Most of the research that has been done on fandom and football fandom would suggest that women’s fandom has different motivations, is a very different thing for some, and lot of time that ends up being interpreted both by other fans and by the research as women being less authentic fans. We often have these categories of “real fan” or “not real fan” or “you’re a bandwagon fan or a real fan,” and so women often were sort of seen as those not-so-authentic fans. But we knew from our experience that there were loads of women who consider themselves very authentic fans, and so we wanted to do a project that would really give voice to women and allow them to explain what their fandom is and not as a point of comparison to male fans or real fans but just to really let women talk about their fandom
What they found:
I think that the thing I’m most proud of with the book is we’ve offered a different way of thinking about fandom generally, so it’s not just about women fandom but — in trying to come up with a way to think about fandom that is more encompassing of female fans, we’ve proposed to think about fandom as being performative. That just like all of our other identities — you know, our gender identities, our racial or ethnic identities, these are things that we enact — and by performing these fandoms, we are reinforcing our fandom and so that’s the sort of theoretical framework. And the other big thing that I would say came out of the book is understanding that fandom is really flexible. That like our other identities, the way that you are a fan in your 20s is often very different from the way you’re fan in your 40s. And the way that you’re a fan when you’re home by yourself watching a football game is really different from how you are a fan when you’re at the stadium. And those are things that we all know, because for all of us who are sports fans, we know that those things change over time. … So what we saw with the women fans, I would say the most prevalent thing that came out of the book is that for women, who count themselves as fans of the NFL or fans of a team, they want to be appreciated for their fandom and not always have them be treated as this other thing, this separate sort of fan. And where you see that is in efforts to pink it and shrink it. ‘Oh, women are fans? We must make the jerseys pink.’ Well I personally am a Steeler’s fan, and my teams color is not pink, so I don’t want a pink Steelers jersey. And we heard that loud and clear from women. Women when they go to games, they go to games because they’re there to watch football, not because there there to check out a cute guy’s butt or there there to come up with their newest tailgating recipe. They may engage in all of those things but there there because of the football and they want to be treated and respected for that.
The Drop-The-Mic fan:
There are some sort of well-known stereotypes of the female fan, and so we offer categories of fans, and so you’ve got the sort of, the football widow, the person who isn’t really even a fan at all but her husband goes off to watch football. Then you have the dutiful partner that is only here because she’s there with the guy, and then you sort of have the bimbo who has all the outfits and she looks really cute but she doesn’t know the first thing about the game. And so we have all these stereotypes of women fans. What becomes very problematic for women who consider themselves to be very devoted fans is they have to be conscious of how they’re likely to be perceived as one of these negative stereotypes. And so in the book we talk about the different negotiation strategies that women develop for overcoming the stereotypes of women fans, and for a lot of women they become very private fans and so you wouldn’t know in talking to them that they watch football regularly that they read about football that they can rattle off all kids of statistics because there’s not a lot of return on investment for them to try to engage in those conversations. So they don’t. But you also then have the ‘drop the mic’ fan that really likes, they sort of sit and wait for, and it’s usually a guy for that guy to challenge them and say oh well you say you’re a football fan, well I bet you knot know, or can you tell me, and thats the woman who loves to get into that conversation, drop a little knowledge and then drop the mic and just walk off stage. Boom! I just schooled you. I know my team, I know the game and so … its different personalities and so we come up with ways negotiating. … almost all of the women we spoke to had experienced at one point or another being challenged as fans and some of those challenges are fairly direct challenges, and some of them were very subtle challenges. But most women felt that at some point or other somebody had sort of assumed that they dint know as much as they know or didn’t care as much as they care. But they do.
On LSU football fans traveling to Syracuse
I would argue that they came, they really bought their game. There is a bar restaurant right toff of LSU’s campus called the Chimes. And I went down town to Empire Brewing Company here in Syracuse on Friday night, and when I walked int he door I turned to husband and said ‘Oh my gosh it looks like the Chimes in here,’ It was purple an gold everywhere. So yeah they were here they were here in force. It was a great game. That was actually the first football game I’d been to in the Dome and I will say I think Syracuse played a great football game against an opponent like LSU top ranked school, and Fournette is amazing. But I felt like Syracuse really held their own and I was really proud to be cheering for the Orange on that day.