I did not grow up watching sports. My mom watched the Superbowl every year, and my dad never displayed much of an interest. We would go to the occasional Mariners game, which, if you know anything about baseball, you know was kind of a disappointing spectacle after 2002. Seattle sports, in general, have long been somewhat of a disappointing spectacle. Seattle fans are used to heartbreak. Our basketball team moved to a different city, our baseball team has come so close and yet has no AL Pennants nor World Series titles, our football team earned their first Superbowl win as of this year—and despite being up by over 30 points, anyone who has been a long-term Seattle fan was still closing their eyes and crossing their fingers until the last minute.
I became a sports fan starting in high school, through the influence of friends and various boyfriends. I always played sports, and so it was natural to watch and be interested in the sports that you played. Even more so, as a social person, it was natural to develop an interest in sports results, because everyone was always talking about them—especially boys I wanted to impress. Of course, after the age of 14, it became much less hormone-driven and much more passion driven. Once you start to care about a team, they work their way into your heart. Every time the Seahawks lost, I was crushed. I start every Opening Day with an ill-advised amount of hope for the Mariners, because that is a day for hoping, it is a day where nothing has been proven yet and things could still change.
Even with my ever-increasing love for watching sports, this was the first year that I have ever made a bracket. I thought about it last year, but wasn’t going to be near a whole lot of basketball over spring break, since I was abroad in Italy. I probably should have never started, because I am unbelievably competitive and every time one of my teams lost (and believe me, the teams that I have chosen have lost dramatically and frequently), I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach and told me I could never pet a puppy ever again. Even worse, I looked at those teams that I had wanted so badly to win, I saw the players stretched out over their team’s benches in sadness, their heads cradled in their hands, and I knew there wasn’t anything I could do, or could have done to help them avoid that terrible feeling of defeat.
That feeling of losing when you had so much hope is so familiar to me, having been active in athletics since a young age, playing three sports all through high school and participating at the collegiate level for three years. It’s crushing. However, seeing those men, those huge, muscular men, essentially the gladiators of our time, demonstrate so much emotion at a loss, brings up something interesting for me, for when else do you see that much open emotion from such a stereotypically masculine arena?
I am obviously not a man, and all men are obviously not fans of watching sports—I do not mean to stereotype men. I am not writing to say that they must behave in one specific way; I am writing to say that as a woman and as an avid sports fan, I rarely see more visible and intense masculine emotion than I do in sports. As a woman who loves sports, I scream and throw things and lose faith and regain faith and cry when my team wins or loses. Men who love sports have much the same reaction as they watch or play the game. As a woman who loves sports, I scream and cry and throw things and lose faith and regain faith all the time: in myself, in my schoolwork, in my relationships. Men, however, I do not see this with.
Once again, I want to be clear that I do not mean that this is true of all men, just as it is not true that all women are emotional; it just so happens that I have strong emotions, and I see this reflected in my love of sports. Men, I know, also have strong emotions that I see reflected in their love of sports. So, therefore, I wonder, do they also cry when they lose faith in their schoolwork? It seems to me that it is much less socially acceptable for a man to be crying in public—because, say, he worked incredibly hard on a paper and received a failing grade—than it is for a woman. However, a man cries over a crushing loss, and it is deeply understandable. Perhaps this is an obvious observation, rather than an opinion, that men are allowed to be publicly emotional about sports, but not about more “personal” things. But what is more personal than sports? For me, hardly anything.
This issue is far more complicated then anything I can sum up in 800 words—I doubt that tomorrow I will be hugged by a crying soccer player telling me that I have made them feel more in touch with their emotions; that is not my goal. My goal is consideration. The connection between sports, masculinity and demonstrative emotion is a strange and powerful one, and the subject is worth ruminating upon. Especially at Vassar, where athletes are often seen in a negative light, it is important to recognize the intense emotions and incredible depth of knowledge that it takes to be a sports fan; it is equally as important to remember that many of these qualities of sports fans translate to emotional depth and important facets of humanity.
—Lily Doyle ’14 is a political science major..