Voices from on and off the field sound off on sexism and gender inequality in sports. You can read other articles in the series here. Have a perspective you'd like to add to the discussion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandon Marianne Lee is a cohost of Her Fantasy Football and inspired our editors to seriously up their lipstick game.
I was raised a feminist. I never thought of it as a bad word and never shied away from demanding equal respect for not only myself, but for anyone else that felt marginalized. Equality and justice seemed so clear to me from my early days on the playground.
When I was five, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I made direct eye contact and said, “I want to be the first woman President of the United States.”
My mother laughed.
Then she said, “Honey, that’s impossible. By the time you’re old enough to be President there will already be a woman President. More than one. But you can be President even if you’re the third.”
My mother has one remaining election to be right. And sadly, after years of disappointment, I have extreme doubts.
One barrier for women will be broken however in 2015: Sarah Thomas will become the first full-time female official in the National Football League.
Some skeptics will write this off as a publicity stunt. Many will wonder if the NFL believes hiring Sarah Thomas will somehow act as a Band-Aid to cover up the variety of horrific off field behavior during the 2014 season including drugs, domestic violence and rape.
But here’s another theory: Sarah Thomas is passionate about football, good at her job and went through all of the necessary training to hold a position that has absolutely no gender requirements when you look at the job description on its own merit.
And for those of you that still question how she could come out of nowhere, I would like to offer this video. Outside the Lines, an ESPN documentary series did an expose on Sarah Thomas in 2011 called “Pinstripe Parity.” For your consideration (and for the following debate):
Full disclosure: I am a fantasy football analyst. I know exactly what it feels like to be the only woman in the room.
So, let’s talk about that video . . . first the reaction to her profession of choice“
"Why on Earth would you want to do that?”
Answer: Because I am a grown woman and I can do whatever I want.
“Are you a tomboy?”
“I’m a tomboy, yes, but I’m married with two boys.”
What the hell does it matter? Sarah, you be you. If that is a tomboy with a husband and kids, go for it. But I hope you know that there are people of all genders out there that don’t automatically equate sports to tomboy. Sarah enjoys the thrill of competition she experienced when she was a collegiate athlete so she decided to pursue an athletic profession. Maybe we should all take a moment and equate sports to fun, athleticism and strategy. Doesn’t that sound more accurate?
Description of Sarah in high school: “A star athlete, but also loved fashion.”
Are those two things mutually exclusive? Have you seen some of these professional athletes and the extravagant outfits they put together? And good for them! Cam Newton does “dapper” the way it was meant to be done. Carmelo Anthony takes fashion risks that Joan Rivers would have relished (RIP). Being fashionable, once again, is not gender specific. Even the fashion-reluctant Philip Rivers brought back the ever-loving bolo tie.
Her brother, Lea Bailey, frankly nailed it on the head when he said, “She did feel like she was the only girl in the group and that she would have to step up to the plate.”
Yep. Whenever my being a fantasy analyst comes up in a group setting, some guy gets a wry grin and says, “So what about this…” It’s always a softball, some menial question that anyone with even a year of fantasy experience would be able to answer. “Should I take Andrew Luck as my first pick of the draft this year?” My answer, “Are you in a two Quarterback league? Do you know your draft position? If the answer to either of those questions is no, bad choice. If yes, I’m willing to have a conversation with you.” That usually shuts them up. But when you are a woman working in a male-dominated space, even if they think it’s in “jest,” or "for fun," you will get challenged.
Let’s talk about her husband asking her not to put her butt in the air on national television…
Listen, we can all agree those white pants were terrible, right? But if you are a woman in a committed relationship you have had the, “this is my body and my life” conversation. You could sense that “the talk” probably happened right after that interview, but I am going to cut him some slack. He’s a seemingly supportive husband of a woman in a male-dominated industry that is forced to be in the media spotlight. Since then, the pants changed to black and hopefully we can all agree that if the job requires Sarah to bend down from the waist, she is entirely capable.
The classic case of trying to be "supportive" and then actually being the most offensive, is brought to you by coach Marty Schottenheimer: “At the onset, I thought, “What?” and then I thought, “Wait a minute. It’s not brain surgery, you know. And, um, I have no issues with that at all.”
But you would have an issue with a woman as a brain surgeon? Or should we take more stock in the fact that officiating is so easy even a woman could do it, I guess? He was obviously trying to show support, but these are the dismissive comments that women hear day in and day out when they are striving for something outside of whatever that particular person believes is the “norm.”
Former Conference USA Director of Officiating, Gerald Austin: “She has long, blonde hair and I told her, you need to put, uh, your hair up under your hat. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Just go out there. Be an official. Officiate the game just like all the other officials are.
Sarah’s response: “They told me to not wear makeup, and I just thought, “I cannot not wear a little bit of makeup. But a little bit of mascara and foundation and powder is about all I’ll wear. And of course lip-gloss.”
This just makes me sad. Are we meaning to say, as a society, that if a woman has long blonde hair and wears makeup that it is a foregone conclusion that she will not be treated with the same amount of respect as the men that surround her. What does her makeup have to do with calling pass interference? Why is her hair distracting?
When asked what the fans say: “I throw my flag like a girl, and I don’t know how to throw it any other way.”
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. “Girl” is not a put-down. It is a stage of life when a woman has not yet come into her adult body. Girls are awesome and so are the women they become.
In 2013 my two sisters and I came together and decided to start a podcast, Her Fantasy Football. The three of us spent years reading analysis, pouring over data points and listening to podcasts, yet there was no denying that we were passionate about a game where the women were practically absent.
Fantasy football is a computer game that operates as a logic problem based on the statistics produced during a week-long period of football games. There is absolutely nothing inherently male about fantasy sports. The act of putting together the perfect roster doesn’t require any gender-based knowledge. Actually “playing the game” when you were a little kid offers such a minimal advantage (if any).
Sure, players who went on to play extensive college and professional football have a very extensive knowledge of the game. How that knowledge translates to the activity of fantasy football varies. Some ex-athletes are very good at fantasy and others are not. But the simple fact is that most fantasy analysts are not ex-athletes. (Actually, as someone who stands 5’9” I am often one of the tallest people in the room when I attend fantasy football functions.)
Interesting things happen when you are raised only with siblings that share your gender and your parents don’t force you in one direction or another. There are no “girl toys” or “boy toys.” There were just toys. We would ask for both Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels. We loved He-Man and Rainbow Bright. My sisters and I were also raised as football fans. I didn’t think of football as a “man’s sport” because in my house four women and one man would watch. Frankly, he was outnumbered.
My sisters and I decided to not hide our hair under our hat or put away our lipstick. Hell, our logo is a set of lips that actually came from my sister Ashley kissing a napkin while wearing a fierce red. We have the luxury of having our own show and are unapologetically us. Unapologetically women. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but we know what we are talking about, do the research and don’t think we have to be or talk a certain way to be taken seriously.
We support Sarah and her decision to do what she deems necessary to do her job. But we would also support her if she decided otherwise. Rules are rules and we understand that change comes in baby steps.
My sisters and I are proud to be women. We are also proud of the variety of women that fill our lives. Her Fantasy Football is our name because we are a roundtable of women talking about football, and sadly (for now) that is an anomaly. We do not speak for all women because that is impossible. All women are individuals and complex. Sarah Thomas is a woman and yet does not represent all women either.
But damn, we look forward to supporting her.