I am an avid sports fan and during my first semester at the University of Michigan I attended several men’s basketball games including the Hillsdale game and the Syracuse game. I also attended a woman’s basketball game against Cornell. My experience at the men’s games versus the women’s game was very different. On a Tuesday night for the Syracuse game the arena was packed and the crowd was electric the entire game. The student section, known as the Maize Rage, cheered, jumped and chanted almost the entire game. Students had lined up hours in advance of the game in freezing cold temperatures to ensure that they got a seat on the bleachers of the student section. The entire crowd would roar almost deafeningly loud during big plays, especially toward the end of the game as Michigan sealed the victory over a very talented Syracuse team. After the game I could relate to Bartlett Giamatti’s description of a spectators experience from his book Take Time for Paradise. He explains how spectators are intrigued and excited by sports because they create a series of events that has never been put together before, which can lead to an exciting ending. I left the game feeling excited after cheering on the wolverines to victory.
This experience was very different from my experience at the women’s game against Cornell a week later. There were not nearly as many people at this game. I would guess that there was about one thousand people at the game, even though tickets to the women’s game were a fraction of the price of the men’s game. The few fans that were present were not nearly as loud and energized as the fans at the Syracuse game were. Even the men’s Hillsdale game that I went to had significantly more people and generated more excitement despite the fact the Michigan blew out Hillsdale and it was not a very exciting game. It was surprising to see how dispassionate the crowd was at the women’s game. One possible reason for the lack of energy in the crowd was the women’s team trailed for almost the entire game and ended up loosing by a large margin. Despite the fact that there were no dunks and the game was not quite as fast pace as the men’s game, the women gave equally as much effort during the game, which is something that deserved to be cheered on.
In his book The Playing Fields of Eton, Mika Lavaque-Manty discusses some of the divides between men’s and women’s sports in his chapter on “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities.” He talks about how no collegiate women’s sports are “revenue sports.” Revenue sports are sports, which are so popular that the university can profit off of them. This fact did not surprise me after I saw the small crowd at the women’s basketball game. Lavaque-Manty discusses how one large factor that explains the lack of popularity among women’s sports is beliefs and attitudes in society. He talks about how much of society still upholds the stereo types that women are less athletic and less skilled in sport then men and that women’s games are expected to be boring. After going to a game myself, I found that my attitude toward women’s sports had changed. I enjoyed watching the game and watching the team give their best effort and despite losing the game. Even though the game was not as exciting as the Syracuse game I still enjoyed watching the team represent the University of Michigan. I think that it will be interesting to see if attitudes and beliefs toward women’s sports change in the future.