So You Love a Sports Fan

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According to some words I heard recently while listening to the radio, something is about to happen with football. I don’t know if this is a problem for other people. My “sport” of choice growing up was gymnastics, which is closer on the spectrum of physical activities to yoga and ballet, so I never really learned how to care about teams. This is not to say that I did not go to sporting events at the all-girl’s high school I attended. Far from it. I went so far as to find a ride to away volleyball games without being friends with a single player. But this had everything to do with unrequited crushes and very little to do with my love of the game. This summer I enjoyed watching the women’s World Cup while visiting friends, but again, my joy had a lot to do with the fact that when you watch the World Cup you are allowed to drink gin and tonics with your breakfast, lunch and tabbouleh.

My lack of interest in sports has nothing to do with disdain. It appears to be a neurological barrier— rules stress me out. To give an example, when I tried to buy a Powerball ticket, I read the directions several times before looking desperately around the gas station for help. Finally, I realized that I could just mumble something confidently to the cashier and give her a couple of bucks and she’d hand me a ticket. Being in a relationship with a sports fan means that I can’t just pretend sports aren’t there. Here are some strategies that I’ve developed in order to survive each new season of bodies doing things inside of lines.

Doughnuts, People Watching, Fanny Packs and Brittney Griner

I don’t particularly like going to places where loud people have come to assemble. I am also mortified by the idea of screaming negative things so that somebody will perform their job poorly. So when we drive to Phoenix every now and then for a WNBA game, I try to find ways to entertain myself that do not involve distracting my girlfriend with yet another lecture in which I posit the idea of shouting encouraging things to both teams and playing slightly more interesting music. I am lucky in this situation because my girlfriend has a game-watching buddy, who also brings her girlfriend, so I usually have a friend to go exploring with.

One of the things we discovered was snacks. There are likely different kinds of snacks at different stadiums and I imagine they range from pretty-much-plastic to kinda tasty. But boy have we found a diamond in the rough: freshly-made doughnuts at the Fractured Prune. Some of them are coated with orange syrup, and some of them have a kind of silvery veneer. I don’t even like dessert that much (more on that soon) but piping hot pastries have an undeniable appeal, especially when they reflect light. Also, sometimes you can find nacho-filled fanny packs.

Also, there are tons of lesbians with their families just hanging out together in one place. I mean: it’s basically majority lesbian. When else do you get to be in a majority lesbian environment when that is not the stated purpose of the event? This makes the game ethnographically fascinating and I people-watch to my heart’s content.

Last but not least, there is the issue of tattooed star appeal. When your girlfriend wants to stand closer to the court, you can play the “Brittney Griner Just Made Eye Contact with Me” game, which is the kind of game that doesn’t have a very complicated set of rules and everybody wins.

*Here’s a hint: don’t wander off looking for food during the national anthem. Rule sticklers don’t like this.

Pie

Okay, I said I don’t like dessert and I am not lying. I am a salt person. I go through a tub of olives every week. I SAID IT. I am relishing this habit while my blood pressure is still reasonably low. However. My girlfriend introduced me to our friend’s pie blog a couple of years ago and it made game days so much more delightful. When you are making a pie, nobody will wonder why you keep leaving the room, and everyone will coo with delight when you pass around piping hot slices of fruity goo.

Get to Know the Players

My girlfriend did a really good job of explaining her love of Michigan basketball to me. We watched the Fab Five documentary together and she introduced me to the history of the school’s storied relationship with elite athletes. It was like taking a class. She went through a similar process with Lebron James. We also watched He Got Game. I’ll probably watch Love and Basketball. And give Hoop Dreams another go. For me, you just have to zoom in on somebody’s face and tell me a story about them and I will care a lot more about the significance of what they do with their arms and legs. One of the reasons I like basketball more than I like football is because you can recognize the player’s bodies and faces better.

Take for example the film Trainwreck. I got to spend a good amount of time with Lebron James in this movie. Now, as someone who has a very discerning eye when it comes to the depiction of black people in film, there was a lot to cringe about when it comes to the way his character was written and maybe Alison Bechdel can come up with a test for inoffensive inclusion of black athletes in mainstream media. But when I see Lebron James now I have a whole host of emotions that don’t involve loud beeps, math and the sound of screeching shoes.

Sports Lit

Sports have so much to do with gender, race, power, health and society — it’s a rich topic to dissect and people are writing about it beautifully. The literary journal Prairie Schooner recently published an entire issue devoted to sports, edited by the sensational poet Natalie Diaz. The only time I tried to start a race war in graduate school was in response to a conversation we were having about the essay 36 Tattoos by David Shields, which juxtaposes quotes about sports ownership, tattoos and corporate sponsorship in a way that evokes America’s history of slavery. Sort of like the artwork of Hank Willis Thomas. All this to say: if I’m up on the latest controversy, the game becomes a kind of who’s who on the cultural conversations red carpet.

If All Else Fails, Criterion Collection

You know how, in Jane the Virgin, Jane Villanueva teaches college undergrads for the first time? And one of her students is a basketball player? And in order to break through to him she watches sports at home and even goes to the court to play a game with him? I hated that part. I was talking back to the TV the whole time. When I taught at a huge university, I found sports culture on campus terrifying. When students asked me if I had gone to a recent game I got all Mary-responding-to-Edith-on-Downton-Abbey and asked them if they’d seen the latest Almodovar film. My first neighbor in Tucson would rent out parking spaces in our driveway on game days and I would close the blinds and periodically peer out as though the whole city was under siege.

Large groups of screaming men — is there a way to finish this sentence? It’s one thing, for me, to meet my partner half way. But as far as sports culture more widely is concerned, I’m not the least bit interested in fitting in. I can sport a Phoenix Mercury shirt and eat a doughnut in the convention center of Lesbos but as a general rule my first instinct upon seeing large crowds of uniformely dressed white dudes is not to dive into the fray. That’s just a personal boundary of mine.

So if you find yourself in a situation that feels downright toxic, remember: your loved one loves you too. Find a safe place and watch art films until it feels like the world has come back into balance again.

Aisha writes essays about art, race and film from Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared or can soon be found in Ecotone, The Offing, Sierra Nevada Review, Ninth Letter, The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Essay Daily and Guernica, where she serves as a contributing editor. Her book, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White, was published by University of Iowa Press in 2013.

Aisha has written 16 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. This is wonderful! Fun and funny and beautifully written!

    I, too, love a sports fan. I mean, I grew up playing every sport and have been a fan of sports my whole life — but my girlfriend’s love of sports is next level. (I can, for example, name every member of the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff and every local newspaper beat writer who covers them; and I can’t even remember the name of my own college basketball coach.) I can confirm the existence of nacho fanny packs at Met Life stadium, and I’m gonna try this pie thing immediately.

  2. Oh my god, Autostraddle (and Aisha, this is so good). Oh my god. How do you find all of the things relevant to my interests? Brittney Griner was also my basketball gateway drug, and I learned to love football in self-defense when we moved in together and I realized it was going to be on our tv all the time. But when I figured out that we could talk about race and class and gender and toxic masculinity all the time, I got way more enthusiastic about sports talk! (Anyone wanna talk about turf??)

  3. this is totally charming/I have been this person. gf does not love sports but ONE TIME I had a sportsy gf, and I was pretty consistent about being like “but sports are not interesting what about snacks or look I’m in my cutest pair of underwear or literally any goddamned thing, pay attention to me, this is so boring.’ Which upon reflection is annoying af, but in my defense, I saw her once a month bc long distance, you be the judge.

    But I am here for snacks and Brittney Griner and understanding the racial/sociopolitical context of sports better and arty farty kids who are like ‘whatever, Almodovar films’.

  4. My partner is a die hard Ohio State Football fan, I’ve learned to like it because A. They win a lot so that’s fun B. I look good in red and grey and C. FOOTBALL NAPS.The best part about Saturday college football games is watching them at home in comfy team spirit gear with snack and and then passing out for a blissful nap from halftime to the end of the game. Deeply satisfying.

  5. once upon a time, a girl i was dating pushed me away when i tried to kiss her and said, “girl. GIRL. the GAME is on.” this had never happened to me before and i was horrified. later, she tried to gift me a copy of the complete idiot’s guide to football and told me, “don’t be offended, there’s a reason i own this.”

    🙁

  6. I’m a life long Lakers fan(and of basketball), so pie was never something I associated with game day(though 62 regular season games a year would make for a lot of pies). On the other hand those donuts sound really good. I’ve been to a LA Sparks game or two and I don’t remember seeing many queer lady families, just mostly people out on dates(straight and a few queer). Maybe that too is a regional thing? Maybe it has to do something with having multiple sports leagues for queer ladies?

  7. Whaaat I am so excited to discover that the fractured prune is a chain. Sand-encrusted donuts were a staple whenever my family visited Ocean city NJ when I was a kid. They were so good I always assumed it was some locally kept secret treasure. But in Phoenix! That’s grand. I feel almost patriotic about this.

  8. also, the “fab five” book is not half bad

    (michigan basketball in the early/mid 90s was my life, i’ve never felt so passionately about a sport or a sports team before or since, but i do like hot dogs)

  9. I come from the land of the tailgate bro, where the Who Dat nation grow…
    Ahem, I mean my sports culture is different and there are plenty of traditional things to do if watching isn’t interesting, but yeah I feel ya on how sports venues can be stressful. And the rest of America is weird and likes to wreck shit win or lose so on campus sport culture feeling like a city under siege is a most apt description.

    Things We Do That Might Be Fun For Sports Sufferers
    gameday gumbo or jambalaya
    grill things
    boil seafood
    eat Zapp’s (sub with what ever “unique” chips your local area has)
    drink Abita (sub with what ever craft beer is available to you)
    me I prefer specialty sodas because beer is permanently associated with pee in my mind
    bake something, always a good plan if you’re home as using a grill to bake is very trial and error thing
    get Crunked (no idea what you could locally sub that with)

    On grilling, some people like to get a hold of “fancy” sausage, but uh I dunno how affordable wild game sausage is for places where making and personally obtaining the meat isn’t a hobby members of your kin take part in.
    So just use game day as reason to experiment/try a new food either by cooking it, or if you’re at sports venue buy the smallest size and use your sports fan as guinea pig before having some yourself. ;D

  10. Regarding getting to know the players, with super bowl coming up, there’s plenty of commercials that can help introduce players. I’ve found that people who aren’t interested in sports for sporty reasons can become interested in players for “oh they’re the ones with the cute kid/dog/back story”

    It’s pretty easy to find things that make sports more relatable for non-sports people. For example, Pantene just released four commercials with footballers styling their daughter’s hair, which are adorable. (called Dad-Do) The NFL is trying to emphasize football is family. Other sports have players kids come on to the field at the end or as bat-boys. Or little family snippets that air during the holidays.

    My girlfriend knows nothing about Drew Brees’ scoring record, but she does know that he has three cute little boys and a little girl. She knows Cam Newton does silly dances and gives game balls to cute kids, and that DeAngelo Williams wears pink hair for his mom. She knows Brock Osweiler’s parents were cheering for him at every game.

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