Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

I don’t remember the first time I ever watched a sports game. I think it might have been Minor League Baseball when my family trekked to a local stadium when we lived in Pennsylvania. Or, it might have been watching the World Cup with my dad and my sister. 

But I think my first real memory of watching sports was the 2012 Summer Olympics, which took place in London. I remember rushing to watch the women’s gymnastics team compete, trying to calculate the time difference between London and the West Coast. I remember the awe I felt watching Katie Ledecky win gold, and I remember feeling myself hold my breath as track races went down to the wire. 

There was just something magical watching athletes, who had spent their whole lives training for this moment, accomplish their goals. I don’t think I will ever lose that feeling. 

Without question, however, sports aren’t just a space of magic and wonder; sports are inherently political spaces, and inequality persists. Although Title IX has been instrumental in increasing opportunities for female athletes by requiring schools to provide equal athletic resources, opportunities and treatment for male and female students, prejudices and discrimination against female athletes still endures. 

Gender inequality extends beyond just the experiences of female athletes; it also manifests in challenges encountered by women as sports fans. Just take a look at Taylor Swift and her support of Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs as an example. Pundits and broadcasters alike languished her appearances at different games, as if her mere presence was an affront to the essence of football in itself. 

Look, while there’s a lot to rightfully criticize Taylor Swift for, being a sports fan, albeit maybe a casual one, isn’t one of them. There’s this prevailing narrative that women who watch sports have to prove their understanding of the game. To be a “proper fan,” women have to know every last player on the roster, where they went to high school and every last rule in the book. 

Women are then criticized for being too much of a try-hard and “not like other girls.” Or, women are told that they are only there to date the athletes and not watch the sport. There’s so much gatekeeping around sports that women are pushed out of engaging with it in the first place.

And it's not just female fans who are questioned about their knowledge of the sport — female journalists are regularly subjected to scrutiny about their qualifications and background. Sarah Spain, an ESPN sports journalist, regularly faced harassment online when she worked as a radio host. Rhiannon Walker, who covered the Washington Commanders football team for The Athletic, spoke about how she was harassed and sexually objectified by executives when covering an event. 

Women often also don’t feel safe when watching games live. An article published in The Athletic last year shared stories from several women who were harassed when attending soccer matches in the U.K. At least 15 women reported being harassed at the Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix in 2022. 

Research has also shown that domestic violence incidents increase after sports events, regardless of whether a team won or lost. A Lancaster University study revealed that domestic violence reports rose by 38% when the English national soccer team lost and by 26% when the team won or drew. 

Sports, in essence, are supposed to be spaces of entertainment and community. Some of my best memories — from watching the Super Bowl this year with friends to running cross country in high school to being in a train filled with people heading to the Golden State Warriors victory parade — would not exist without sports. We should be working towards a world where everyone can feel safe and included when watching their favorite sports team. After all, isn’t everyone supposed to experience the epic highs and lows of football? 

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