My mom is a sports fan. True blue, die-hard sports fan.
Of all things Arizona sports.
Arizona Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Wildcats. Phoenix Suns, Arizona State Sun Devils, Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. I’m sure even Scottsdale Community College Artichokes too. She is a sports fan.
She never identified herself as a female sports fan, so I never did either. Today, however, marketers and sports leagues feel compelled to segregate us as such. Treat us as if we are different when we know sports (or our sport of choice) just as well as most men.
Are we that different that we need to be labeled as a female sports fan? Aside from the obvious, are female sports fans that much different than men?
No. But, that’s just one female’s perspective. My perspective. Contrary to what those marketers and sports leagues say, I don’t speak for all female sports fans. So, I decided to ask some other ladies for their perspective on that and more.
These aren’t just any ladies. These are the ladies from NFL Female.
NFL Female Beginnings
NFL Female was a site started in 2011 by Liz Panucci. Liz is an NFL and Miami Dolphins fan based in Canada. “Up here everything is hockey,” said Panucci in a 2014 interview with me. “I grew up in the Dan Marino days and he was my hero.” Panucci wasn’t alone in her love for football. She’d watch and play (strategy) games with her brother. “We had this game called Stratomatic Football which is like a board game – it was pre-Madden type of concept. You were the coach and you made all of the calls and it was so much fun. I really learned about the game when I was in my teens.”
Panucci was able to go to a Dolphins game – yes, all the way from Western Canada – about five years ago. She saw other females who loved their Dolphins, the NFL and enjoyed talking about it. That was the impetus for NFL Female.
NFL Female is a site that brings together females of all demographics. It’s a diverse group of ladies. They range in age from their 20’s all the way to their 60’s – students, professors, medical field professionals, stay-at-home moms not to mention from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They come from across the U.S. Some grew up playing sports:
Marquita Quinones (New York Giants writer): “As far back as I can remember, I was around sports. My mother and my dad’s sister were both on the same track team and both were state champions. The story goes that my mom had hidden her pregnancy and actually went into labor during one of her track meets. This may explain why I had such a love for running. Although I was busy running track, playing on the high school basketball team, cheerleading and occasionally on the softball team, I loved football.”
Kasey McNelly (St. Louis Rams): “I was raised by my grandparents in a very traditional home where sport was a part of every day life. At that time, it didn’t always seem so good. This will show my age, but I grew up on ABC Wide World of Sports. Looking back now, I know that this is a good thing. I am a sports nut now.”
Roxaan Herrera (Philadelphia Eagles): “I didn’t play any sports religiously, but I was a cheerleder through middle school. I played basketball and was in dance all through high school. I started watching basketball since I could remember and football since I was 10 years old. I played it for recess one day and fell in love with the game.”
Despite their differences, they all share a common bond – their love of NFL football. For some, like Julie Voigt (Indianapolis Colts), supporting an NFL team meant finding her own team, despite family ties. “I was raised in a Chicago area home where my brothers and dad supported the Chicago Bears. Since my family was from Texas, my dad also supported the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers,” said Voigt. “I became a Colts fan when Jim Harbaugh signed as QB for the Colts.”
Each woman’s story on NFL Female is different. The feedback they face as a woman writing about the #1 game in America is different too. “To be honest, I have had a lot of positive feedback from family and friends. Most of my women friends don’t watch football at all. I have male friends that are blown away by my football knowledge,” says Wanda Wiedman (Chicago Bears). Adds founder Panucci, “Most of my family/friends have no clue what I do – I’m just Liz or Mom or Grandma to them.”
Others, like Sonja Greenfield (Detroit Lions), don’t pay much attention to trollish feedback. But, as Greenfield points out, “You get some of those crazy trolls, but whatever – I don’t need to impress them.” Gwen Robinson (Baltimore Ravens) agrees, “I will never read the comments. People are mean and I don’t need strangers putting me down.”
That can be hard to do in today’s social media age. Many of the prominent female journalists and broadcasters have faced negative feedback on social media, especially on Twitter. Some minds don’t want to be changed. The only way to address it for NFL Female is with the positive. Panucci, who is in charge of NFL Female’s social media, says, “Men, especially, love to point out our mistakes on Twitter/Facebook. I simply say, ‘You’re good. Thank you for noticing’.”
DV AND GOODELL
The ladies love their football. But, they don’t love what happens off of it. How the league has handled the off-field issues, particularly when it comes to domestic violence, is of concern. Ravens’ writer Robinson, “Ray Rice was made the poster boy for domestic violence yet no one has seemed to learn their lesson yet.” Robinson also referred to the recent Ray McDonald incident in this post-Rice video NFL world.
“I think the league is on the right path,” says Robinson. “They have recognized there is a problem with disciplinary actions and they are trying to fill in the blanks.” Adds Bears’ writer Wiedman, “I truly believe players should be evaluated every year on their mental state prior to playing. If they show any signs of mental instability, they need to take time to deal with those issues and submit to counseling. The NFL needs to stop waiting for something to happen and be more proactive!”
The NFL has been reactive when it comes to domestic violence, as Wiedman alludes to. And, that may be what Tennessee Titans writer Sharona refers to, “I see the NFL at a tipping point right now. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of violence against women and obviously some hig profile NFL cases to go along with it. How the league and teams handle this issue in the immediate future could dictate its future.”
One topic that the ladies are not all in agreement about when it comes to the NFL is…Roger Goodell. Says Sharona, “I have mixed feelings about Goodell. I think he is responsive to the NFL’s fan base which is a good thing. I think he genuinely wants the league to do the right thing so long as it doesn’t cut into the bottom line. He also isn’t above doing the owners’ nasty work if he thinks he can get away with it and it won’t become public.”
McKnelly, the Rams writer, says this, “I am not a fan of Roger Goodell. I am going to try to stay positive, but the facts are the facts. He has softened the NFL.” She added, “He is NOT fair in the way that he handles situations. The punishment should fit the crime. I was appalled by the Goodell press conference surrounding the release of the Ray Rice tape.”
Other choice words were used about Goodell (ass-clown was one). One writer says it’s “time for a new leader” and called for a “group of men” to run the league. But, to one degree or another, the NFL is still what Panucci refers to as the “Old Boys Club”.
OLD BOYS CLUB
There is still a degree of the NFL being the Old Boys Club. How else to explain the lack of foresight when it comes to responding to domestic violence? Old ways of thinking. Old ways of thinking are reactive. Old ways of thinking are pink jerseys connecting with female fans. Old ways of thinking are disregarding a social media outcry over the league’s handling of domestic violence issues.
“As a woman, not an NFL fan, I felt disrespected. I felt belittled and I felt this was a huge step backwards for our country,” says Eagles writer Roxaan. Added Greenfield, “I think they don’t know what to do. They’re not prepared to handle it. It’s always been an issue, I do believe, but because Ray Rice was caught on camera, that’s when it blew up.”
Not everyone at NFL Female agrees. Some ladies view the league as “they’re doing the best they can”. That’s what makes NFL Female unique. Each woman brings her own unique perspective to coverage of the game and the external issues of the league. “No one person/player is greater than the game,” says Panucci. “We are always open minded, seeking first to learn and understand.”
TRUE AND LOYAL
Learning and understanding. The NFL could take a clue from the ladies at NFL Female. They know the game and its nuances. They could probably teach some men a thing or two about the game. But, they aren’t all the same.
They share their love of the NFL. And, they happen to be women. But, that’s where the similarities end – much to marketers’ dismay. These ladies each have their own opinion on Roger Goodell, the game of football and the league itself. That includes how well the league connects with them.
More should be done or It’s trying but.., some ladies say. Others see themselves as just NFL fans. Colts writer Voigt, “I’ve come across some men who claim to be die-hard fans and not know an ounce of the game. It should all be equal. Unfortunately it’s not and I think the NFL should try harder at connecting with female fans.”
Passionate, knowledgeable, jersey-wearing, fantasy football playing and die-hard toward their team. They’ll talk NFL football with anyone who will listen – at home, at work, in the store, online – you name it, these ladies will talk about it. Sounds just like their fellow male NFL fans. “Accept us as true, loyal fans,” says Panucci.
True and loyal fans — not just female fans — is exactly what the NFL needs now and in the future.
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
The ladies of NFL Female don’t all think alike. They don’t think like me.
We share the common bonds of womanhood and an affinity for the NFL. We can discuss football with each other or with our male counterparts. But, beyond that, we each have our own viewpoints, beliefs, likes and dislikes…about football, sports and life.
That’s really the point, isn’t it? A multitude of voices in a single demographic. We’re fans. And, we’re females. We’re alike, yet different.
Are you listening, NFL?