There's a common refrain from people who learn first that my husband is a sports fan and second that we have a daughter. "You have to try for a boy," they tell me, "so your husband can have someone to play with." And we wonder why the excitement over the UConn women's basketball team setting a record for the most consecutive wins fizzled out in less than a week.
Male sports are back on the front burner, and no one's surprised. Men's sports have the money, and they have the fans. But there's one thing we all could have learned last month. Women can go all the way to the top and they still can't improve the reputation of women in sports in America.
It's going to take men. And by men, I mean fathers. Fathers of daughters.
In 10 years of marriage, I've walked into the living room to find my husband watching a game featuring female players no more than twice. Even when the Virginia Tech women went to the NCAA Tournament, my Hokie fan snubbed them. As he's said numerous times, "women's basketball is boring."
And yet, this fall marked his second year as coach of our daughter's soccer team. It's a game he loves, but more importantly, it's a game he wants to see his daughter excel at. Scouts, hold your applause. She's inherited her mother's lack of grace, rivaled only by her father's enthusiasm for all things sports.
Fortunately, she has something even greater -- a father who sees no need for a son to share his love of all things sports. His daughter works just fine, thank you very much. She's not a replacement for a boy to him. Like ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, who wrote recently that his goal in life is to ensure his own 5-year-old daughter knows the simple truth that "Celtics = good" and "Lakers = evil," he is raising her to root for the Hokies, the Yankees, the Bills, and of course the Celtics.
But he's also raising her to be an active participant in sports. He coaches because he wants her to love the feel of the foot on the ball, the simple joy of dribbling left around a defender. He looks past her current trouble staying on two feet to a future when she will, hopefully, come into her own. If it happens, expect him on the sidelines at every game, yelling words of encouragement. This man who is bored by women's sports will defend to his dying day his daughter's right to play and the reason she should: the simple enjoyment of sport.
It's a realization that will dawn on him one day too. Women's sports aren't inferior to men's sports. They are different. The game may truly be slower -- one of my husband's gripes about the WBNA -- because of the physics of the body. They may be less exciting -- less testosterone makes for less violence.
But men like Simmons and my husband have already seen reason to value women in sports. They can't deny their own daughter's prowess. And in recognizing one woman, they lead the charge to recognize them all.
We moms already know women rock. How about getting the dads on board?
Image by Jeanne Sager