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In the fall, Sunday is my favourite day of the week. As an avid sports fan, I call up my fantasy football app, set my lineup and get ready for 10 hours of action on the NFL gridiron, while talking smack with nine male friends.

Last week, I lost. Part of the reason was that I benched one of my best players: I thought he wasn’t getting enough carries, and felt he wouldn’t perform well. I was wrong.

In response to my decision, one of the men in my 10-person league then said to our group, “and that, my friends, is why girls don’t play fantasy.”

I’m Shelby Blackley and I’m the editor of this beloved newsletter. This isn’t the first time I’ve been mocked for my interest in sports, and certainly won’t be the last. This happens even though I’ve spent more than seven years covering sports as a journalist. I’ve won an award for sports writing and was a finalist twice more. I am part of a 20-person panel (and one of two women) that ranks the top 10 U Sports men’s football teams every week. I usually receive two or three messages from male friends about which player to play in respective fantasy leagues. I know sports.

Yet my list of “credentials” usually falls short. “But you’re a girl,” someone inevitably says.

It’s a harsh reality, especially considering women make up a third of the fanbase for all sports in the United States and more when it comes to the collegiate level. And yet, when you search “female fans of sports,” Google returns videos of the “hottest” and “most beautiful” devotees. Women are patronized for their interest, judged by their appearance. We couldn’t possibly be at the ballpark, the arena or the stadium for any real love of the game.

Stacey May Fowles’ incredible book Baseball Life Advice (which, if you haven’t read yet, you must) includes an essay called “Watching Like A Girl.” She discusses how women often know things men don’t need to – the safest places to sit in the ballpark, which game days pose less risk of harassment (family friendly days or weekday games), and how to navigate a sometimes difficult spectrum of spectators. These extra steps women take show an additional level of commitment to being a fan – if we weren’t truly devoted, would we go to such lengths to have the same experience men do?

Often, we feel like we need to prove that we know what we’re talking about. This memorable 2011 piece from The Atlantic says it best: After the author, Alyssa Rosenberg, names off the times she’s made major sporting moments a priority, she says, “I recite these bona fides not because I think you need to hear them, but because I think there’s a lingering perception that women who love sports are dilettantes, pursuing a game to please our boyfriends or throw ourselves into athletes’ paths.” Nailed it.

And we struggle to stay fans. This powerful essay about the 2017 controversy when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hired Art Briles – the disgraced former coach at Baylor University in Texas, who was fired after dozens of allegations of sexual violence by his players surfaced – struck me to my core. My favourite team tried to hire a man who allegedly intentionally covered up sexual assault. And this year, as my colleague Amberly McAteer wrote, my favourite baseball player was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, traded and later had the charges dropped. Players in professional leagues often get suspended from fewer games for violence than they do for violating doping policies. Women fight hard just to be fans, but then we’re made to feel like we don’t matter when allegations such as these are brushed off.

Given all this, it might be surprising to learn that women make up half of the NFL’s viewership. It’s a demographic that sports leagues continue to ignore. I really enjoyed this column from Shannon Ryan at the Chicago Tribune, who makes a smart observation about the changes needed: Male viewership has mostly maxed out. The NFL – and other major leagues, such as the NHL, the NBA, the MLB, the CFL and the MLS – need female fans to grow. And they need to “stop pandering to us by selling pink shirts and donating a scant amount of the proceeds to breast-cancer research.

Marketing to women is an opportunity, too. This Campaign article looks at sports marketing in 2017 and beyond, and recommends that agencies spend a significant amount of time redressing the imbalance of female representation.

Meanwhile, in the Conversation, Stacey Pope discusses the lack of research on female sports fans. She took it upon herself to look into the connections between women and sports. Nearly 85 per cent of her interviewees said sport is ingrained in their identities – they spend a large amount of time thinking, watching or talking about their respective club or team.

It’s not just a man’s world, and it’s about time we’re let in.

What else we’re reading

I still remember feeling devastated last year when reports came in that 58 people were killed at a country music concert in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017. This piece from the New York Times on the one-year anniversary of the massacre is a sobering reminder of the effects of a mass shooting on those that survive it, even when the country moves on. The feature includes a map of the U.S. that shows where tickets for the concert were purchased across the country, a jarring visual representation of how far the traumatic event really spread. I couldn’t hold back tears reading about one survivor, who returned to Las Vegas on Oct. 1 to get married in a memorial garden off the strip, surrounded by fellow victims of the shooting.

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