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How to be a feminist and a football fan and not hate yourself

Wow, it is not fun to be a female football fan right now.

Let’s consider the massive dumpster fire that is the fallout from the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee. Let’s talk about Jameis Winston, the FSU quarterback who brushed aside a rape accusation to go on and win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, despite the fact that FSU has now reopened a “student conduct” investigation into the incident. Let’s talk about the multiple sexual assault allegations against Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Or former UGA/LSU QB Zach Mettenberger. Let’s talk about Steubenville.

That’s all just pretty recent stuff. We could keep going. But really, holy crap, women. Why are we doing this to ourselves?

We’re not alone, we lady football fans. By one count at least 55 percent of American women say they watch the NFL. Pro football is the most popular sport in American households. NCAA football and high school football, though clearly more fractioned, run through the veins of countless fans across the country; male, female, whatever. We love us some football.

But football doesn’t really love us back.

So how (or why) do we keeping turning on the game, buying a jersey, springing for tickets, using team-sponsored hashtags on Twitter when it’s so clear we’re buying into a culture of entitlement, of untold violence and questionable conduct that at times seems to ignore the fact women are people/even exist at all?

The answer is deceptively simple: We do, because we know.

As a female football fan, I know what I’m getting. I know the men I watch earn millions of dollars that they sometimes have no idea what to do with. I know, from a young age they have been groomed and coddled, cloyed with promises of fortune and yes, women — or more accurately — attention and wish-fulfillment. I knew a player at my alma mater who spoke with wonder at the things recruiters were willing to do for him if he would sign on the dotted line. Players with stories like his probably number in the tens of thousands.

I also know that football takes a toll on the body and the mind. That despite their free will and the fact they are adult men, players are taken advantage of and commodified by those who stand to make a buck off their fame. I’m not an apologist by any means, but I refuse to look at this in purely gendered terms. We want this institution we love to view women as people, so it’s important we do the same to the men on the other side of this divide.

I know that there are roughly 2,000 players in the NFL, and a handful of them have been called out for criminal acts, against women and otherwise. In an ideal world, that number would be zero, but this is reality and it stands to reason a vast majority of the players you like and root for don’t punch their wives in elevators and are in fact normal people just trying not to get their clocks cleaned on the field.

However, I know, when one of the commits a crime, even a heinous one, they are often afforded mind-blowing levels of privilege.

But all of this isn’t a football problem. It’s really not even a sports problem. If you must ask a feminist why she watches football, expect her to ask if you pay attention to fashion or movies or TV. Misogyny, objectification of the female form, entitlement and mitigation of punishment through privilege are certainly present in these art forms as well.

It’s not an excuse, and enjoyment of culture shouldn’t be a game of lesser evils. The point is, football is not the only institution marred by these problems. It just so happens it’s an institution populated and run by mostly men; it’s brutish and rough, it’s a boys’ club in the most literal sense.

If you want to be a feminist, and you want to watch football, you just need to not be ignorant of these issues. You must look upon these problems with a critical eye and demand change, because as a fan and a woman, that’s what you deserve. Hold the people in charge to higher standards of conduct, because this is football, damn it, and we love it. And it’s hard to love it when dumb, horrible stuff like this keeps happening.

But don’t turn off the TV. Don’t give up something you love because part of it sucks. Take hope in the fact that the tides seem to be turning, ever so slowly, in favor of our goals as feminists. We’ll get there.

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