These Women Are Changing How We Think Of College Football Fans

Football has always had a reputation for being a boys' club — a sport for male athletes, covered by male analysts, watched by male fans. But the reality is, women are not only passionate football fans, they’re also becoming more and more involved on the professional side of the sport as commentators, analysts, reporters, and administrators, shattering stereotypes that one of the most exciting sports doesn’t have a place for them. This is especially true of college football, a game that’s known to inspire particular passion and traditions among its fans.
According to Nielsen data, 41% of the viewers watching the College Football Playoff at home last season were women. And it’s easy to see what’s appealing about the game — not only is there the general camaraderie of fandom, but the structure of the College Football Playoff means that every game in the regular season counts (aka: the stakes are high). Chloe, a Notre Dame fan, says CFP has a huge effect on her. “College football is the only sport I get emotionally invested in,” she says. “It has the power to change my mood.” Lauren, a Northwestern fan, says she and her family “watch it Saturday after Saturday because we can’t not.”
Still, as much as women show interest in the game, being a female college-football fan often means having your place in the fandom put to the test. “It means explaining to a lot of people why I like football, and [whether] I really understand all the rules (yes, I do),” says Meghan, another Notre Dame fan. Chloe echoes this sentiment: “My knowledge about the game [is] questioned all the time, and there’s a lot of unnecessary explaining.”
There’s also a perception — one that many female sports fans can likely relate to — that if a woman likes a sport, she’s only doing it for show. “Some guys I have hung out with tend to think I'm doing it to impress them,” Meghan says. “I feel a real responsibility to stay educated about the game and not just be someone who is a fan of football to be cool or popular.”

It's almost like a sports logo erases my gender for a moment...It allows me to act uninhibited and feel whatever I want to feel, without the often-accompanying rebuke that women get for being ‘emotional.’

Lauren, Northwestern fan
The truth is, college football can be a cathartic outlet for women. “[It] allows me to express the kinds of emotions that are normally barred for women — aggression, passion, and yes, sometimes anger,” says Lauren. “It's almost like a sports logo erases my gender for a moment...It allows me to act uninhibited and feel whatever I want to feel, without the often-accompanying rebuke that women get for being ‘emotional.’”
Courtesy of ESPN Images.
While there’s been a surge of women holding professional jobs in the world of college football, perhaps unsurprisingly, the stereotypes linger for them as well. “I think honestly it’s getting better, but you still get that, ‘The reason why you’re here is because they needed a woman for this show,’” says Maria Taylor, reporter and host for ESPN.
Courtesy of ESPN Images.
Laura Rutledge, also a reporter and host for ESPN, says that when fans doubt her knowledge of the sport on the basis of her gender, it only deepens her resolve. “I work every day to make sure I’m the most prepared and I’m coming to the table with more knowledge than anybody else,” she says. “I think that’s the best way to arm yourself.”
For Paola Boivin, who has been covering sports for more than 20 years and is an Arizona Sports Hall of Fame inductee and the second woman in history to work on the CFP selection committee, it comes down to sheer, undeniable passion. “It’s sort of mind-boggling to me that some people still think that you have to have a certain chromosome to be able to understand college football or football in general,” Boivin says. “We have the passion that anybody else would have, and it sort of astounds me that, in this day and age, some people still don’t think that’s realistic.”
Courtesy of ESPN Images.
It isn’t lost on the female pros that their forward-facing roles in college football inspire a greater sense of community for the women watching at home. Taylor recounts a time when she was feeling low-energy one Michigan game day, and a male analyst approached her to share how meaningful she was to his daughter. “He was like, ‘All she wants to do is be you when she grows up, and she’s so thankful to see you on TV, and it’s just great to have you.’ And I’m like, You know what? I have enough energy to do this game. It’s about the girl that’s at home that can turn on the TV and find any type of strength in seeing me there — I gotta be that.”

It’s about the girl that’s at home that can turn on the TV and find any type of strength in seeing me there — I gotta be that.

Maria Taylor, ESPN reporter and host
Taylor also mentors college athletes as part of the Winning Edge Leadership Academy, which allows women to shadow her on the field, hopefully growing the pool of women who can later pursue jobs like hers. “I want to be their reflection, because I’m a woman,” she says. “But I also want to be a window to their future, have them looking out and believing something greater for their life, or have this strong belief in what they’re capable of doing in the future.”
Despite the challenges they face, it’s clear that the sense of community among women in college football is stronger than anything else. Christian, a Clemson fan, says that seeing more and more women enjoying the game “means equality, setting aside the thought of it just being a manly sport.”
Though college football is about so much more than gender, the women involved — on both the fan and professional sides — are working to extinguish any lingering ideas that women aren’t an integral part of the sport and its surrounding communities. “Everywhere that there’s a nook or cranny that can be filled with a woman’s voice in college football, we’re finding ways to fill that,” Taylor says. “We realize that female fans are out there, and they love college football.”

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