Return to Innocence

Posted Mar 10 2006

The Oakland Banshees, a professional women????s football team creates opportunities, challenges stereotypes, and gives new life to a disillusioned fan.

About ten years ago, while in college I went through a period when I was turned off by professional and collegiate sports. Ironically, a key factor in deciding which college to attend was heavily influenced by its athletic program, although I was not talented enough to actually play any Division I sport. Besides fielding top-level programs in hockey, basketball, football, and just about every other sport, who could argue with the snazziness of the University of Michigan’s maize and blue uniforms? I quickly became disillusioned after attending a few games and seeing how few true fans there were. People who barely understood the game jumped on the bandwagon when teams did well and spent more time partying in the stands than watching the action on the field. Maybe that’s my sports elitist attitude coming out.

I was actually more disturbed by an image that I saw of two African-American athletes dancing on a table after a basketball victory, surrounded by smiling White faces. As I became more aware of the unequal distribution of power in sports, such as the overwhelming number of players being African-American and Latino (the labor) in comparison to owners (in the pros) and coaches/athletic directors (decision makers) I began to think about the history of minorities, the poor, and new immigrants being put on display to entertain the privileged. I also began to wonder about the relative lack of support for women’s athletics. To make things worse, attending a school that was part of a feeder system for the pros exposed me to more than one arrogant athlete who seemed to think that they were God’s gift to the world. It was hard to cheer for someone that you not so secretly hoped would get his grill clocked on national television. Of course, the real story is more nuanced. From the staff down to the cheerleaders, I met some great people, but I viewed them as exceptions. It took a couple of years of being away from the University before I could begin to selectively shut my brain off and watch games as merely a fan of spirited competition. And yes, I remain a fan of the Wolverines.


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