Big time corporate sports, which rake in billions via TV contracts, are male sports. But the paying fans, whether live or viewers, of the NFL, MLB, NBA, are 33-45% female. 53 million women watched the 2015 Super Bowl, almost half the total audience of 114 million. 38% of NASCAR fans are women.
The Leagues and major networks recognize this involvement, and promote it. However, the fandom sports forums that dominate online pro team coverage are, for all practical purposes, exclusively male. Men originate the forums, run the forums, and represent 98-100% of the membership. There’s no stats because none are taken, but no one familiar with these discussion boards would contradict this assessment. In fact, it’s very rare, and often only by chance, that you can identify an actual female member.
Of course, there are no rules that exclude women, because membership is as easy as creating a username. No, women are kept out because in every way imaginable, they are un-welcomed and minimized. Jock Culture should be spelled out in the banners of all the major talk sites, because this reality is apparent in language, epithets, vulgarity, jokiness, fact/stat obsession, acronym obfuscation, offensive pictures/videos, cliques, one-up-man-ship, out-sized egos, and man-crushes. But perhaps the strongest deterring feature is that the talk forums are devoid of communication. Burdensome repetition, vapid assertions, breaking news competition and the reflexive spewings which accompany game threads equate more often to tedium than expression.
What might be just as off-putting to females who venture onto these boards is aimed ironically, in the form of ridicule, at the board’s very heroes. Because the primary form of attack and disparagement of the star’s or player’s under-performance is to feminize it and him. So the Jack who fumbles becomes Jackie or Jacquelyn, the Patrick who makes an error becomes Patricia, the guy who misses both foul shots is wimp or a cocksucker. But “pussy,” “bitch,” “hoe,” and “he takes in the ass” lead the parade of insults. During game threads, which may exceed 2,000 posts and an almost half that number of F word slurs aimed at players on both sides, this loutishness comes in rapid fire language. For all civility and decency can be abandoned in game time when raw masculinity is let loose–and alcohol can fuel the smut and cheap shots.
Yes, one of the big draws of these forums is this unwritten exclusion of women. Most members want to hang out with the guys, join the virility band, return to the freedom of adolescence, talk smack, riff over the game threads, use the language of domination associated with pro sports, and generally bask in male attention. They want their boards to be as male as the teams they root for.
But this is not said, not said because it needn’t be. Because females don’t even register on these boards nor are any references made to their presence or absence. If a few are present, no one knows it, because you can be sure they’re in convincing disguise. For the white noise of male culture guarantees their absence.
But pictures of the other sex are present. Female avatar photos, all of which represent male users, are fairly common. Is this the influence of transgender? Do these men think they are more compelling to themselves and other men when viewed as the females or sexy females who move or excite them? Is this and the man-crush phenomenon on these boards new forms of male-bonding?
Of course, females are also made present as sex. The artsy posters who prefer pictures and video clips to text, opinion, and arguments, endorse female absence by presenting them as other or as object. Their oversized entries, often grotesque, campy, smart-ass, comic-based, and spiked occasionally with soft porn images gain instant attention and quick scores. But this visual commentary also deepens the homo-social and female-exclusionary character of these “spurts” sites.
But the forums are not only male, they are white male. There are very few Black men on these sites despite the fact that at least two-thirds of the NBA and NFL players are Black. Some of the same blocking mechanisms that apply to women, or more specifically to Black women, also apply to them, as in race, class, and literacy. So, these guys minimal presence is often awkward, self-conscious, and a bit apologetic.
Thus, in addition to the 51% of the population missing on these boards, an additional 20% (Blacks & other men of color) are also ignored. No wonder that a form of entropy takes over after a few minutes of posting: there’s no governing consciousness and a kind of willed ignorance. Political references are almost always forbidden or censored ostensibly in the name of keeping the peace but actually in the name of radical passivity. And there’s a dismal sense of being closed off in mind and body from the social world
There are exceptions, however. A tiny minority of guys, for example, refuse to post in the out-of-control game threads, referred to by one as “shitstorms.” On player domestic violence threads, they also tend to stand with women victims, and in rarer moments, even call men out for their hyper sexist language. They often provide the humor too. And it’s this slight subset, who might just prefer female and non-white members, but given the pack mentality, this is unspoken.
But speaking of the player-abuse-of-women threads, which are fairly frequent, that’s where women’s absence most acutely registers. And is there a more opportune time for incognito female members to exit the closet, and proclaim their authority? Of course, but it doesn’t happen. No female voice is heard, so none shape the discussion. Who gets hurt most by this? Obviously the female victims of these criminal acts. And sports goes free.
But women’s silence on sports forums goes far beyond not commenting on these pro athlete assaults on women. They also have no voice on the business or politics of sports; on the corporatization of sports; on taxation and stadium construction; on the sexism/racism inherent in male sports; no voice on the dominant role male sports play in the media; and no voice in the diminutive status of women’s sports. They don’t get to discuss drugs, violence, or injuries in sports, nor the role of cheerleaders (one very recently took a knee during the national anthem). And they have no voice in the their own team’s direction or in player’s rights or union policies. Wouldn’t it shock the forum to hear: “I’m a Black woman, so I should know about Serena Williams or Cheryl Miller…” This would be a damn turning point… and Black women athletes would suddenly be on the map as would women’s sports. But this doesn’t happen or, if by chance, it has, it’s been ignored or easily passed over as a blip in a dense crowd of posts.
So, women support male sports or mainstream sports both financially, and emotionally but are effectively forbidden any other participation. Because there’s just no way that even bold women can buck the assumed maleness of these hopped up jock boards, the dominant position of male sports only intensifies, as does the equation of men with sports. And given the current assaults on Title IX led by the men who name themselves transgender women, the erosion of women’s right to sports, is already in play. Men are not only entering women’s sports in higher numbers, but are winning more major and minor competitions. This hellbent mockery of Title IX is more than just an arrogant assumption by men, but an outright backlash against women in sports. It’s a way of raising the male flag from inside the female community.
Anyway, the sum of what’s lost by women’s exclusion from mainstream sports boards is far more than civility, thoughtfulness, tolerance, and calm, but women as persons, women as athletes, women as equals, and women as speakers/writers. Forums without female fans are without diversity, and more importantly, without contestation of the more serious issues, including that of the normative masculinity of the boards. The outcome is what online sports boards have been since their inception the rightful property of men, adult playgrounds for men only, and the proving grounds for manhood. But they are also the interment grounds for discourse and reality.