A few days ago, I was one of the thousands of fans present at the Chrisler Arena to cheer on our basketball team versus the Syracuse Orange. In dramatic fashion, including a late three-pointer by Spike Albrecht, the Wolverines pulled off a thrilling victory. The fan base erupted; in fact it was energetic all night. For example, a friend of mine got to the game around 3 o’clock to be admitted into the “Maize Rage,” a die-hard student fan base solely for the basketball team. Each fan comes decked out in maize, and is prepared to jump and cheer throughout the entire game in support of the team. I can contest to this energy being contagious, as the Maize Rage starts cheers that spread throughout the arena.
This same energy, unfortunately, was not nearly as present during a Michigan girl’s gymnastics meet later in the week. The talent between the basketball players and gymnasts is equally as impressive, but the Chrysler Arena was not comparably as excited or crowded. These unfortunate gender differences in sports are discussed in detail in Mika Lavaque-Manty’s “The Playing Fields of Eton.” Lavaque-Manty believes that “no women’s sport is what universities call a “revenue” sport—that is, a sport so popular that its paying spectators make it a major business” (132). Basketball season tickets are competitive and expensive, whereas the gymnastics admission was free. While these differences in the sporting atmosphere are unfortunate, they are existent and frankly understandable. I’m the first to admit that I would rather attend a competitive basketball game rather than a gymnastics meet, and I think that is for several reasons that have been engrained in our society.
First off, the entertainment factor plays a significant role in the differences between male and female sports. The fans thrive off of excitement, and therefore crave tight competition and exciting feats. Team sports like basketball and football provide this competition. Each game is completely different from the prior one. Gymnastics matches and other individualized sports don’t provide this same pleasure for eager fans. This is probably because the events and routines are more predictable and lack the “close game” feeling that grabs fans’ attention. I do admit, however, that this is completely opinion based. In terms of genders, men are typically stronger and faster than women, allowing them to perform more astonishing tricks.
While this is most definitely not always the case, this may be the reason that men’s sports have gained more attention from the spectators.
This unfortunate separation between male and female sports has existed for many years. Originally, only men were permitted to participate in sports. Therefore, tradition has contributed to the favoring of men in athletics over women. Because this has been the case for so long, people assume that this is the standard. Due to the fact that male athletics have existed for so long, many teams have a long-standing history as a program and with their fans. Even when teams are in slumps, their fans stay with them and are devoted. Individualized activities and many female teams don’t always have this same critical bond with their fans.
It’s important that the fans understand their role in sports. While sports are for the pleasure of the fans, it is also the athletes’ jobs in many cases, and they need the help of the spectators to perform their best. The athletes can only perform for themselves until a certain point. A. Bartlett Giamatti explains the importance of the fans within sports. He states that ”‘winning’ for player or spectator is not simply outscoring; it is a way of talking about betterment, about making oneself, one’s fellows, one’s city’s, one’s adherents, more noble because of a temporary engagement of a higher human place of existence” (Giamatti 27). The athletes need the encouragement and energy from the fans to push them to new goals. High-energy atmospheres motivate and excite the players. At the recent basketball game, the Maize Rage and rest of the fan base was constantly cheering regardless of missed baskets and turnovers. At the gymnastics meet however, the fellow teammates were the loudest fans by far. I can only imagine the work that goes into being a high-level athlete, and the athletes need to the help of the fans to perform their best.
If people would give other sports, female ones in particular, a chance, they might find out they really enjoy it. However, for so long now male sporting events have been more popular than female ones, and nobody seems to be changing this. Edmund Burke emphasizes following traditions and advocates that people stay in the situations that they are in. I would suggest, however, that people take a chance and try something new. Go to a women’s sporting event. Show your support. I guarantee the athletes will appreciate it, and you will realize how exciting different games can be.