When I was growing up, gender roles were much more defined than they are today. Me liking sports placed the 'tomboy' label squarely upon me. At that time, I wore it with pride, as being a 'girly girl' just wasn't something palatable to me. I liked playing football, baseball, being a cheerleader, majorette, etc... athletics were something I loved- challenging my personal best brought me joy.
When my team began to become a major player in the NFL, I was 9. "The Immaculate Reception" in 1972 seemed to kick off a decade of Steelers' victories. It was wonderful. The 80s? Not so much. The 90s saw a resurgence of my team's victories, and in the past decade and a half, they've maintained a relatively good standing overall. But, throughout all of those years, good sportsmanship was the mantra.
I used to smack-talk with friends of other teams, with the understanding that it didn't get taken too far, and that, in the end, the friendship was much more important than a sports game. One Superbowl between the Cowboys and Steelers, my friends who were Dallas fans, were allowed to take up half my living room with their Cowboys decor, while us Steeler fans took the other side. Dallas beat us that year, and yet, not one person on the winning side was a poor winner, and not one of us on the losing side was a poor loser. We had a great time, and talked about that night for years.
Moving to Maryland was a culture-shock, as I experienced the rabidity of fandom at its worst. I've traveled a lot in my life, but I had never come across people who treated others so badly when it came to football. Sportsmanship just doesn't seem to be in the vocabulary of the majority of fans in my adopted home state. My friend Michele pointed out that after the Colts left Baltimore, many fans took on other teams such as mine and the Redskins. In retrospect, I have to admit that I've seen native Baltimore Steelers fans who behave just as badly.. perhaps it's a regional issue- I don't know, but the lack of good sportsmanship is rampant around here. It's even infected family members to the point where I don't want to talk football with them anymore.
Good sportsmanship is realizing that a game is a game. Friendships and familial relationships should be much more important. As Michele also aptly pointed out, kindness is something lacking in many areas of American life these days. I would also add that respect is its missing companion. And, respect for women within this group of franchises is sorely scarce.
49% of the NFL fanbase is female. Yet, the incidents like that with Ray Rice only prove that women are not respected by those who run the league. When we are so completely ignored, why should we support it? There is no honor when it comes to the almighty dollar, it seems.
I think it's time for me to hang up the jersey and find something more worthwhile to do with my time left here. I'd rather be loving and respectful of others, and know that I am supporting institutions who do the same than to spend a few hours each week in the summer/autumn timeframe engulfed in flame wars and disrespect.
If I am lucky enough to be old and gray and sitting on my front porch reviewing my life, I don't think my football fandom will be something I'll regret giving up, particularly given the climate I'm seeing today.
Posted by Alexis Kallan Kennedy