Laura Pappano is a former education columnist for the Boston Globe and co-author of Playing With The Boys: Why Separate is not Equal in Sports. In the op-ed below she brings her love of football to play with her love of competition.
If I hadn’t committed to baking a quiche (half ham, half broccoli and tomato) I would have watched the fourth quarter (okay second half) of the New England Patriots-Washington Redskins game. Or maybe I would have folded the laundry or lined up the paper bags of recyclables that have to go out on the curb every Sunday night.
I love football. Actually, I crave it. Like most obsessed fans I have an Abu Ghraib-like sensibility when it comes to watching the other team trip, fumble, throw interceptions and generally humiliate themselves. Was there anything the Pats couldn’t do to make the other guys look silly? Defensive lineman Mike Vrabel catches a TD with no one around. Tom Brady slides into the end zone. Randy Moss comes down with the ball even with multiple defenders hanging on him like raucous kids on a favorite uncle. Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney break tackles, spin and chew up yards. (There’s more -strip sacks, punt returns — but I’ll stop because this stuff is super-annoying to non-fans).
Football in New England, in other words, has gotten so exciting that it’s not interesting. Why go to Stub Hub (which is being sued by the Pats) and pay $600 for a ticket when you’ll want to leave before halftime? There’s no need to scream on third down to screw up the opposing QB because the guy’s already struggling. No requirement at home to sit in the lucky chair or bounce the special green super ball against the wall between TD’s as many times as there are Patriot’s points.
The match up with the Indianapolis Colts (and the Pittsburgh Steelers) promises some relief to the non-drama that is this football season (waiting for a perfect run is like watching paint dry – oops – isn’t that what I’ve heard Dads in our town mutter about girl’s softball?). But a sport girl feminist like myself couldn’t have asked for a better demonstration of a key – but overlooked point – in sports: It’s about the competition. The idea that fans pay money to watch a game, or if it’s not a professional or college revenue-producing sport, to show up and get razzed up over what’s unfolding is not just about the level of play. It is about the mano a mano (or team v. team) quality of great against great, of great against good-but-determined – not of great against crappy.
A few weeks ago I watched a breathtakingly competitive college field hockey game that went into double overtime and had fans banging their aluminum bench seats. I have lost my voice screaming in the final seconds of the Women’s Final Four in which the victor was decided at the buzzer. As a fan – of football as well as other sports – it makes me insane when I hear that female players are not as compelling or interesting to watch because “they’re girls” and they can’t do what the guys can. Huh? (Should we not watch Boise State because they’d get creamed by the Dolphins?)
If “respect” – and getting it – is a favorite mantra of players with a microphone in their face and a trash talking opponent supplying bulletin board material, maybe fellow NFL fans will understand that the biggest gap in the formation is around sex. Female athletes in this sport-crazed nation are still treated like they’re fortunate to have the opportunities they do. The dirty little secret is that Title IX was key – but it “fixed” nothing. We still have a serious challenge in this country with a sports system that divides players at all levels first by gender. Sports is the most sex-segregated secular institution in our society – and it’s keeping females from equal status on and off the field.
It’s plain wrong that season tickets to the Tennessee Lady Vols – the NCAA championship team with dunker and superstar Candace Parker – cost dramatically less than season tickets for a mediocre men’s team (Vols season tix were advertised this year for $186-$298 for men’s play and $95 to $165 for women’s). For all the attention the Rutgers women’s basketball team has brought to the school, how does the college get away with charging $7 to attend the men’s soccer game and $4 to see the women play? It kind of begs the question: How much should you pay to see a 52-7 football game?