In the middle of the 20th Century, the Super Bowl did not exist.
Imagine that….no multi-million dollar commercials, no glitzy halftime fanfare featuring over-paid celebrities; no wardrobe malfunctions, and…..oh, yeah….no larger-than-life gridiron brawls crowning the best pro football team in the country, courtesy of the National Football League (NFL) and Corporate America. There were pro-championship games, but nothing like the Super Bowls to follow.
Back in the 1950s, baseball was still considered the national pastime, and most housewives seemed comfortable in the post-war era by exclusively tending to their families and homes. Dinner parties consisted of women cooking, cleaning and chatting about children in the kitchen; the men, sitting in dens and parlors, would watch an evening prize fight on the new television tube, puffing on cigars, sipping a brandy or guzzling some beers.
Very few sports arenas had adequate restroom facilities for women, because very few women attended sporting events. Some mothers became mildly interested in sports only when their sons began playing on local and school teams. Little girls, like me, attended ball games with their dads, eager for the trip because it meant a day off from school, not necessarily because they loved the sport.
A New Frontier
Now we are embarking on a brand new day in a brand new century. It seems everywhere one looks, there seems to be a larger number of women becoming more interested in sports, and the sports world is taking notice.
But is it enough for the insatiable female sports fan? That is a matter still up for debate.
Certainly, the merchandising machine is responding to this new dynamic. The NFL has started to take their female fans more seriously. After an estimated 50 million women tuned in the Super Bowl in 2003, how could it not?
Women's sporting apparel is starting to be sold in shades of pinks, grays and other pastels. The sizes are more fitting and flattering (although still limited), and variety is becoming the spice of life in many sporting apparel stores.
According to a report in USA Today, women's sports gear generated about 15 percent of the NFL's $3.4 billion in total merchandise sales in 2005, compared with 3 percent in 2004.
Even more astounding, in this same report, it has been determined that females comprise 43 percent of professional football fans. Are these the same little girls of the 1950s?
You bet they are. And daughters are just as involved in following teams and players as their moms in this 21st Century.
Women's fandom in the NFL is only the tip of the iceberg.
NASCAR has captured the female fan base in a big way. Self-proclaimed "Race Girls" are just as obsessed with the auto circuit as their boyfriends, brothers and husbands. According to a 2004 poll in USA Today, 42 percent of NASCAR fans that year were women – that is a 6-percent jump from 1995.
It stands to reason, that in the 21st century world of all sports, women have become a large portion of captivated and committed fans.
In my personal experience, I have come upon many women who fit the above bill, including myself.
Our team du jour?
The Fighting Gamecocks of the University of South Carolina.
Getting the Ball Rolling
All of the ladies interviewed in this piece are baby boomers, born and raised in the 1950s and 60s. All have a story to tell about their devotion to this NCAA football team, nestled in the heart of Columbia, South Carolina.
Janice Williams, a resident of Mount Pleasant, SC, received her graduate degree in social work from Carolina in 1976. Frequent visitors to Scout.com's "GamecockAnthem" message boards know her as "GarnetandGlad."
Janice's love of all things Gamecock began in her hometown of Rock Hill, SC, years ago while growing up. A member of the school band from junior high through high school, it was the band experience that exposed her to football for the first time, although she readily admits she knew little about the sport back then. Interestingly enough, her school colors were garnet and black – the same as the University of South Carolina.
Many of her Rock Hill neighbors were Carolina fans, including her boyfriend, Larry, who later became her husband. The Williamses have been members of the Gamecock Club (university sports booster club) for 28 years.
During that time, Janice learned a thing or two about football. Along with cheering her favorite team at games, Janice has attended some of Carolina's ladies football clinics throughout the years.
"Now I am a real fan," she says. "Besides Gamecock football, I also enjoy following our men's basketball team and other SEC football teams."
A Woman's Worth
When asked about the value of the female fan in the male arena, Janice is quick to respond:
"I do not think that the female fan is valued," she says. "Often at work, when I am drawn into a conversation about a sports-related subject, I am viewed as not knowing much among my male coworkers."
She continues, "They are often surprised when I offer my two cents and show them I know more than a little something about the sport."
Janice is not alone in her thinking.
Rosevelyn Cooper is a big-time Gamecock fan. She is one of the more outspoken of posters on the "GamecockAnthem" message boards, and is known there as "MEGACOCKFAN."
Rosevelyn resides in Greenville, SC. A self-employed home healthcare worker, she is widowed. Rosevelyn's love of sports began when her older brother, Bill, played football for a semi-professional football team, the Greenville Mountaineers, back in the 1960s.
"I always looked up to Bill, and became a big football fan," she explains. "One of Bill's coworkers was a member of the Gamecock Club, and my brother began attending Carolina ball games with him. Shortly thereafter, Bill became a Gamecock Club member, and the family has been attending USC games for the past 38 years."
Rosevelyn is also known to be one of the most outspoken Clemson University critics on the Internet. Being a Gamecock in Pickens County, home of Carolina's in-state rival, is not easy, but Rosevelyn stands up to the challenge.
"Nobody pushes my buttons like Clemson fans!" she laughs.
And boy, she does push back!
How did a little girl, who began her love of sports by looking up to her brother, morph into one of the most rabid Gamecock fans both in the stands and on the Internet?
"That's an easy one," she says, "I fully intend to wear my team colors and speak my mind, just like the guys have been doing for years."
"I believe that women are not appreciated fully by fellow male fans," Rosevelyn explains. "I think we should be valued and get more respect then we do. I mean, if it weren't for us females, the guys on the playing field would have never been born!"
Another fellow Gamecock fan, Anne Bagnal, posts on "GamecockAnthem" as "OptimisticCock." She said that in her postings for some time, she kept her gender under wraps as a social experiment.
Anne is a graduate of Carolina and received her bachelor's degree in marketing. She is a realtor who owns and operates her own company in Columbia. She has only missed two Gamecock home football games in the last 10 years.
Her love of football began when she was a youngster. She and her dad would watch the games, and she also began playing the sport with the neighborhood boys, which paid off while she was attending Carolina.
"I was in the DZ sorority," Anne explains. "We played other sororities in what was supposed to be flag football games, but of course, it always ended up being more of a contact sport."
"I tell you; those prissy girls from other sororities were the most vicious!"
"The year I was responsible for breaking another girl's arm was the same year I was crowned the player of the year," she reminisces with a sly laugh.
Anne has little patience for men who pretend to know so much about the sport, especially when it comes to her Gamecocks.
"I attended all the open football practices this year," she says. "There was this know-it-all there who kept making lame comments, but when he made a statement about Corey Jenkins not being such a good quarterback at that practice, I lost it. I reminded him that Mr. Jenkins was playing in the NFL, doing quite well, and no longer a student. That pretty much kept him quiet."
Let's Get Together
It is clear that these Gamecock ladies are no longer content only sitting on the sidelines, both in the literal and figurative sense. They join their sports-loving sisters across the country that are responsible for creating a new fan base and consumer group, but are still grappling for recognition and respect among their male peers.
When I first came upon Gamecock sports message boards, early in 2002, there were only a handful of us women posting comments about the Fighting Gamecocks. Today, that number has grown considerably. In fact, while doing a Google search for this article, I found over 10 pages of websites devoted strictly to women sports fans.
One of the most interesting and comprehensive sites I found is Femmefan.com. It contains all sports, all genres, professional and college, but with a twist. Femmefan is devoted entirely to women and their love of sports and players.
Women participate in blogs, chat rooms and message boards. It includes a "Field of Dreamboats", showcasing a hunk of the week. This week's featured football player is Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers. We might love our teams, but we gals still need our eye candy!
President of Femmefan, Ivette Ricco, has an ongoing list entitled, "If Chicks Ran the NFL."
Some of her more intriguing highlights include:
"Serve us blended Margaritas featuring the flavor of the day. They'll help us swallow those shingles with Cheez-Whiz they call Nachos."
"Wine, because beer makes us "go" way too often, and puts on the pounds. The wine has to be the good stuff not Wyoming Valley vintage 2000 with twist off caps."
"Baby-sitting services at every stadium in the USA where you can drop off the rug-rats while you sit back and enjoy the game."
"Team Apparel that fits us and isn't made for men who are 6'2" and weigh in at 330 pounds."
Hey! I'll drink to that!
The powers-that-be in sports might believe they have come a "long way, baby" accommodating women and our need for more recognition as fans. But according to most women who love sports, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done…
Are you listening, guys?
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