Where My Inclusive Dawgs At? — A reflection on American sports culture.

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center staff member Kayla Smith. Kayla Profile Pic

Society tells us that women are too sensitive. We’re crazy emotional creatures who are fragile and people need to tiptoe around us and our sensitive flower petal feelings. Because of this stereotype, I spend a lot of time unpacking my issues with certain comments, blog posts, statements and phrases. Is something truly offensive or am I just being a baby? Is something harmful or am I overreacting?

Recently, I attended the first soccer game of the season here at UMBC. I’m not typically a big sports person but I really like sporting events because of the sense of community, which is especially important at UMBC since we’re often seen as lacking in the school spirit department.

I tend to forget how often sports fans rely on sexism and homophobia in their heckling. While I’m framing my experience in the context of UMBC, no sports game is absent of these things. Unfortunately, it seems to be a part of the culture as a whole because every time without fail every time I go to any type of game I end up having this conversation with a stranger:

Expressive gentleman sitting behind me: “HEY [insert number of player here] YOU SUCK AND YOUR MOTHER IS A WHORE.”

Me (startled): “That’s so mean geez why would you say that?”

Man (with feeling): “It’s a sporting event. Get used to it”

So it goes. 

For some reason I thought maybe it would be different this time, but I was disappointed — though perhaps not surprised — when I was proven wrong less than twenty minutes into the game.  From a few bleachers over I hear:

“HEY! You run like a fairy!” (Fairy?! Are we still using that? What year is this? I didn’t even know that was still a slur of choice.)

And it continued like that for the rest of the game even after joining Lot 17, the unofficial supporters group for the UMBC Men’s Varsity Soccer team. Here are a few more comments:

“Steven shaves his legs!” (Wouldn’t this make him more aerodynamic or something? This could be a good thing.)

“YOU HAVE A VAGINA!” (Do you have any idea how strong vaginas are?)

“Black lives matter! Get more black people on the field! (Shouted mockingly even though there were a significant amount of black players on the field…? ಠ_ಠ)

Sigh.

From sexism, to homophobia, to toxic masculinity to racism. All within the span of just a few minutes! Not exactly the safest space for a queer black woman, like me, to be in.

The first couple times I heard these comments I turned to those sitting near me and tried to express my concerns with the problematic nature of the heckles coming from other sports fans. But no one around me really seemed to care, or at least I was the only one to speak up. The overwhelming response was the typical “That’s just sports.” 

"You play ball like a girl!" A quintessential sports jeer rooted in sexism and toxic masculinity.

“You play ball like a girl!” A quintessential sports jeer rooted in sexism and toxic masculinity.

I’m not shy, and I’m more than willing to speak up when I hear something offensive or upsetting. But when no one else supports me or even acknowledges that there’s a problem it makes me start to wonder if I’m the only one noticing that there’s rampant sexism, homophobia, and racism. I feel silenced and alienated from my peers. It makes me feel like that sense of community that I came to the game for is gone.

As much fun as I was having, it was hard to truly enjoy the game and the atmosphere because almost every comment seemed to follow the same line of thinking. “If I feminize you, liken you to a woman, or attack your manhood, you are bad at sports.” Comparing male athletes to women in a derogatory way reinforces negative stereotypes and equates masculinity with strength and athleticism.

Instead of alienating women, LGBTQIA students, and students of color, we should be building a better more inclusive fan base. There are a lot of things some students did right! The “Where my dogs at?” chants and the spirit fingers whenever there was a penalty kick were definitely highlights of my Lot 17 experience. The crowd demonstrated that there are ways to have fun and effective chants, cheers (and jeers) that don’t rely on denigrating marginalized groups. So I know we can do better.

I want to keep attending the soccer games with my friends and I want to continue supporting our teams. But it’s hard to feel included and part of the community if your peers are very loudly letting you know that your kind isn’t wanted. With inclusivity becoming more of a prominent priority for UMBC, it would be in everyone’s best interest to do what we can do to make this campus a better environment for all of its students.

To combat homophobia in sports there’s the You Can Play campaign, which UMBC currently participates in. (awesome!)

Rebuilding Manhood (a Women’s Center curriculum-based program)  brings together self-identified men as they discuss toxic masculinity, gender norms, and how the patriarchy plays into their daily lives. (applications are closed now but consider applying in the spring!)

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