Think about the last time you went to watch a sporting event. High school, college, semi-pro, pro. Any sport. For me, it was a Mountaineers baseball game this summer. I assume for many of us, myself included, that the athletes you watched were male.
I grew up in Connecticut where, when people watched sports, talked sports, and breathed sports, the chances were slightly higher it was female athletes they were following. In Connecticut, “did you watch the game?” in February probably means did you watch the UConn Women’s Basketball game.
Sure, people from Connecticut watch males play sports, too. They love the Patriots, they are loyal to the Red Sox or they despise them, and they are all in a tizzy over the new minor league “Yard Goats” team. It turns out, UConn even has a men’s team. Remember 2004 and 2014 when both the men and the women were national champions?
Imagine being a girl, growing up in a place where not only were your role models female athletes, these athletes were household names. And not just in your slightly progressive sports-obsessed nuclear family household. Back then, not knowing who Rebecca Lobo or Svetlana Abrosimona was in Connecticut, would be the equivalent of not knowing who Tom Brady is. Now it’s Brenna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. Say those names where I live now in Vermont, and people look at you like you are speaking a foreign language.
Growing up, my sister, Abby, and I were obsessed to say the least. We went to live games, we went to my Grandma’s to watch games before we had cable, taped Sports Center recaps and watched them on repeat on the VCR over our school vacation. I’ve seen more Liberty Basketball games than any other professional team. Did you catch that part about going to my Grandma’s to watch the games?
My grandma watched the games, too. Everyone did. She’d been a school nurse and we always joked that she knew everyone in town so going to the grocery store was a multi-hour affair by the time she got through chatting. She loved those Huskies as much as she loved chatting, and women’s basketball was one thing we could count on talking about. Shopping was another pastime of hers, and she made sure we all had UConn t-shirts to wear on game days.
And my grandpa on the other side of the family. He was from a generation that would’ve made him a prime candidate to roll his eyes when Title IX came about and took away funding from men’s team in order to support women’s teams equally. He was no progressive feminist. But he’d talk UConn Women’s Basketball for days. He’d play HORSE with us in the driveway and pretend to be Svetlana. For him, watching women’s sports meant watching not only the Huskies, but also my sisters and I.
We grew up believing that we, as girls, could be strong, powerful, successful athletes. My attempts at rec basketball didn’t go so well; I switched over to track and field. But I never stopped watching UConn, nor did the rest of my state.
In Connecticut, the culture of obsessing over a women’s sports team brought us together and brought our daughters belief in themselves. What if every girl grew up in a place like that?
What if we all gather our friends and go watch a women’s sporting event, be it high school, college, semi-pro or pro? Think of the message it would send to the young girls in our lives. Take them, too, but take others so they know that girls’ sports aren’t just interesting for girls.
Because, for those of us who grew up in Connecticut during the time of Geno Auriemma, girls sports are for everyone. Uconn, congrats on your 11th NCAA title. And thank you, from all the girls who grow up believing in themselves (and all the boys who never questioned that) because of you.
**Thanks, Dad for the edit (and the years of UConn Fandom). I will say it was in the spirit of my late grandpa that my previous post said Jen Lobo instead of Rebecca Lobo or Jen Rizzotti. Bopper, as we called my Grandpa, was forever butchering names and thanks to his awesome sense of humor you’d never know if it was a mistake or a planned joke.