It’s Super Bowl Sunday and the grocery store was packed. I mean packed. I don’t know why I didn’t think to get my weekly stash of life-sustaining food yesterday, but I didn’t. So I drove over there today, in a blizzard, parked on the lower level of the garage after driving through every row of the first level, and managed to push my way down the aisles for an hour without having a breakdown. Huge success, considering it was so crowded that they’d run out of hot sauce, and almost everyone in the store was packed into the condiments aisle waiting to see if it would be restocked.
As I was patiently waiting in the checkout line and handing over my coupons, it occurred to me that this is crazy.
This whole national hype about the Super Bowl is completely insane. Here everyone is, buying wings and hot sauce and shrimp cocktail and six packs so that they can go home to watch two groups of men throw a ball around and hit each other on TV. They are all just waiting to see who will win, which team will be crowned “Super Bowl Champions.” It’s crazy that it’s all about this one game.
I know how this sounds. It sounds like I hate football, and that’s completely untrue. I love the Steelers, I love the strategy of the game, and I love the struggle to win. I was an athlete myself, I know the athlete mentality. That drive to be better, faster, stronger. The all-consuming will to succeed. I get that.
What I don’t understand is why we’ve chosen to make such a big deal about this particular game. These aren’t even our teams. They don’t represent us. We have no connection to them, and there are no gains to be had if one of them wins or loses.
We make a big deal about the NFL in general. We put these men up on pedestals as our heroes of the town. We buy shirts with their names on them and we make up songs and chants, and we believe that our city is more amazing if and when they win. They are supposed to be our role models, or our heartthrobs. We care so much about the team and the game and the champions.
We are so enamored with football teams in the NFL and hockey teams in the NHL and baseball teams in the MLB that we don’t even realize that every single one of these “heroes” is a man. We don’t notice it anymore because it’s the way it has always been. We’ve grown up with these teams and we’ve taken on these identities and proudly say we’re Steelers fans and we don’t even think that perhaps we could and should have some more consistent female role models. Perhaps there could be a women’s team that would be just as exciting to watch.
As a female athlete, I know that women have the same drive to win as men. I know that women can and do participate in the struggle of sports. Women are strong, determined, talented, and athletic.
We are told as kids that we can do whatever we want. Title IX has promised us that we can participate in after-school sports and that we have every right to be on the field. And girls are taking advantage of this. They play sports when they’re young, move on to become captains of the high school team, and get scholarships to play in college, where they excel both in their sport and in the classroom. Yet it is there that many of them finally see the glass ceiling.
Male athletes who are superstars in college are drafted to professional teams while women see the end of their athletic road. There is no female equivalent to the NFL or the NHL. I suppose they’re trying hard enough to put the WNBA on TV, but why do we need the “W” to modify a professional league but men don’t?
After college, female athletes see significantly fewer options when it comes to continuing their sport. Not only that, but if they do find themselves in the WNBA or the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association, they are not held in the same esteem as a professional men’s team.
I’ve been thinking about this all day and trying to come up with some kind of reason for why we’ve progressed so far in terms of girls in sports and championing female athletes, but we are blinded by the glory and fame of the men in these particular professional, nationally-broadcast sports. I thought that perhaps, deep down we still see women as weaker than men, and therefore games would be less exciting. But this can’t be true because we adore female tennis stars like Serena Williams, Olympic skiers like Lindsey Vonn, volleyball sensations, like Misty May-Treanor, and soccer champions like Mia Hamm.
We have phenomenal female athletes proving to the world that women are strong. Women can be champions. But we don’t give them the same fame as we do men who play in the Super Bowl. We don’t see a national race to the grocery store on the day that Lindsey Vonn has a skiing competition. We don’t see a massive spike in beer sales because Misty May-Treanor is about to win a gold medal.
No, we only see sold-out hot sauce on the day of the Super Bowl.
If we want to see true equality for men and women in sports, we need to stop over-hyping the Super Bowl, the playoffs, the Stanley Cup, and start championing our women. We need to support all professional athletes and show children that their sport and their athleticism does not have to stop at college. We need to choose our heroes based on their merit, their determination, and their strength, not on their gender, their sport, and most of all, their TV air-time.
Who are your champions?