Down and Distance
I called up some dude-friends and invited them to join me for a trip to San Antonio last week. It was the second-to-last day of Cowboys training camp at the Alamodome, and they both eagerly agreed to come along. I am not a Cowboys fan, but the lockout stole the annual return-to-football Hall Of Fame pre-season game, which was scheduled to feature my beloved Chicago Bears, and I wore out my copy of Madden 2011 months ago. In short, I’d missed the game, and watching the Cowboys practice for three hours on a Monday afternoon was as close to it as I was able to get.
Plus, like, dude-time, right? My friends and I are all married guys in our late-twenties to early-thirties, at a stage in our lives where sports are one of the easiest ways to enjoy a bunch of hours at a time with other guys.
We could always try and start a band together…
We grabbed good seats at the Alamodome, right around the 40 yard line, and proceeded to watch. One of my friends had printed a roster, and the other claimed near-encyclopedic knowledge of the members of the Dallas Cowboys team, identifying incoming unsigned rookie free agents by their number or their body type. Oh, that’s the new tackle they signed, he’d drop like science. He’s a big boy. Still, there was one player who caught our eyes, a wide receiver who would readily extend his body and crank up the pace during passing drills. Who the hell is #84, I asked. He is giving it everything he’s got.
That’s Tysson Poots, the woman sitting directly in front of us said, neither missing a beat nor pausing to glance at a printed roster or her iPhone. I thanked her, then signaled to the dudes that we should keep our voices down if he dropped a pass on the field – what was she, his mom or something?
Because if a woman knows more about football than you, it’s probably because a dude taught it to her, right?
Over the weekend, Carl Johnson, the NFL’s Vice-President of Officiating, told ESPN that he expects to hire his first woman referee soon. There are a handful of likely prospects – the NCAA has had a few women who’ve worked as officials, and the UFL hired a woman named Terri Valenti last season. Predictably, the response from the vocal contingent of sports fans who freak out about shit like that on the Internet was outraged.
“Challenges are about to get real emotional,” said one commenter on NBC’s ProFootballTalk.com; “But… but… but… there’s no crying in football!” another said, quoting a movie directed by a woman; “This just seems like a bad idea. Some player is going to say something that a guy would shrug off, but the female ref is going to take it to the league office as harassment,” still another predicted; “We all know most women base decisions on there[sic] emotions” seemed to be the summation of the viewpoints. It goes on like this for at least half of the 136 comments (as of Saturday night) on the post at PFT.
It’s a weird outrage, seemingly borne out of the same urge that Calvin had when he declared himself Dictator-For-Life of G.R.O.S.S. – like, can’t we have one thing that yucky girls aren’t allowed into? And most of the griping is a search for after-the-fact justification. Some of the comments on PFT hide behind a smokescreen of “what if a woman ref gets clobbered by a linebacker by mistake,” a concern that seems oddly placed, given that the current average age for a male NFL official is about 93. But mostly, it’s this declaration that women are too emotional, and will thus screw up the great game of football.
And that’s weird for a couple of reasons: First, we insist upon emotion when it comes to sports. At least half of the league, and the people who follow it, are still snickering at Jay Cutler for failing to make an appropriate frowny-face while sitting on the sideline after suffering a grade II MCL tear in the NFC Championship Game; meanwhile, when the U.S. Women’s soccer team lost a heartbreaking World Cup final to Japan in July, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach shed fewer on-camera tears than Tim Tebow and LeBron James did after losing their respective championships.
There’s nothing shameful about LeBron or Tebow having a powerful emotional response to coming up short on something they’d dedicated their lives to achieving, but it betrays a basic hypocrisy: Not only do we demand that men in sports respond to things emotionally, but the available evidence suggests that there’s no reason to believe that women respond more emotionally on the field than men do. So what the hell, guys?
At the very least, there might be consequences for texting cock pictures to a lady ref
It’s not a secret that professional sports – especially football – aren’t exactly friendly places for women. Hell, the comments in response to the statement that the NFL might be hiring some ladies to referee demonstrate that like it’s a mark of pride.
But if we’re going to acknowledge the role that sports play in American culture – the way that they shape our conversations, our vernacular, our shared cultural touchstones, and our identity as a nation – then we need to address the roles we allow for women in sports, too. If we leave it at hocking some pink jerseys and letting Pam Oliver and Suzy Kolber briefly interview players on the sidelines, then we’re cutting a full half of the population out of one of the things that defines us as Americans.
And it’s not even for any good reason. The emotional argument is obviously bunk, and it’s almost insulting at this point to have to point to examples that prove that women can be as knowledgeable as men when it comes to the game. But if you need more evidence, my friends and I met a lady at the Alamodome last week who can back it up.