I Was Pretty Sure My Dream Had Died.
A female sports fan gets pulled out of retirement and put back in the game.
In 2008, I wrote a book for female sports fans with my friend Chris Debenedetti. It was called GameFace: The Kick-Ass Guide for Women Who Love Pro Sports. Approximately five people read that book, including me, Chris and my mother. Hell, I didn’t even read it. I wrote the damn thing — why read it? Chris probably didn’t either. So make that three.
But I wrote the book because I love sports. I have always loved sports. I grew up in Pittsburgh, bleeding black and gold (and not pink.) My dad taught me how to keep a box score at Three Rivers Stadium, watching Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and the rest of the “We Are Family” crew. And don’t even get me started on how incredible it was to be a Steelers fan during the reign of Chuck Knoll, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and the unforgettable Swann and Stallworth.
What drew me to sports was the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The sports-meets-pop culture stories that affect and reflect our world. The fact that sports bring us all together for a shared cultural experience — something that’s become all too rare these days. The excitement, the camaraderie, the food, the music, the smells, the community. All of it.
But, the way I enjoy sports is not necessarily the same way that most fans enjoy sports. And when I say most fans, I really mean mostly male fans. I don’t savor stats. I don’t religiously follow every day of baseball season. I don’t know the last time a no-hitter was pitched West of the Mississippi when the barometer was dropping. I do, however, respect the traditions … understand the nuances … and seek out the goosebump-inducing narratives that sports provide.
I think men and women can appreciate sports differently — and can both be considered fans. Real fans. I believe fandom is in the eye of the beholder.
The best analogy I can come up with: You know how many men can recite every line from every movie they have seen, while most women will just tell you the plot? Both can still be huge movie fans. Both equally passionate about film, they just appreciate it in different ways. Apply that rationale to sports. While I can’t tell you the top 10 all-time rushers for the Steelers (which I was asked to do at a sports bar one afternoon), I can tell you that the strength of the Steelers 2016 season will depend largely on the health of Le’Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey, and what Big Ben is going to do without Heath Miller as TE. (And what the Steeler Nation is going to do when we can’t collectively yell “HEATH” in our best baritone?) I can also tell you (randomly) that in 1943, because so many players were off at war, the Steelers and the Eagles became known as the Steagles for one season. That’s what I, personally, love about sports: the big stories mixed in with the quirky, wacky stuff. Pop culture meets the peculiar. And I don’t think I’m alone.
But first, before you quiz me again (like this baseball fan), let me share a few disclaimers:
- The NFL and MLB are nearest to my heart. Baseball, from growing up in the ’Burgh, and because my first job out of college was writing for the San Francisco Giants’ magazine. In terms of football, although I root for the Steelers, I could watch any NFL game at any time. I compete in two fantasy football leagues each year, and have served as the commissioner of the mostly male, now defunct Hanky Panky League on ESPN — to rave reviews, I might add. I have won the Super Bowl twice in my fantasy career. I think fantasy baseball is for the young and the bored — and I personally don’t know any employed adult with that much time on their hands.
- My two favorite sports to attend live are hockey and basketball — but, in all honesty, I don’t follow them very closely until the playoffs. I do think NHL players are the bad-assiest of them all. And, I happen to adore Steph Curry (who doesn’t?) and think LeBron stole the show in Trainwreck (sorry Amy Schumer! Love you!)
- I have a complete blind spot for college football because my school, U.C. San Diego, had a water polo team and our mascot was the Triton (basically, a male mermaid). I had no chance.
- I think watching golf on a Sunday afternoon is the surest way to a nap.
- I play tennis. Not very well. I follow the U.S. Open, but that’s where it ends. I can’t tell you who won Wimbledon last year, but I did love it when our dearly beloved Prince attended the French Open a couple of years ago sporting a strange futuristic smock and a scepter.
Despite all of this: I am a sports fan. I don’t need to know every damn thing about every damn sport to be a card-carrying member of the Official Sports Fan Club. But what I do need is a home where I can share my love of sports with other fans like me.
And that’s what I started to create back in late summer 2008. I wrote the book. I launched a website with another wonderful Chris: Chris Sanborn. I started a home for female fans. But while I was on my 10-city, self-funded book tour around the country with my sports-loving niece Martina Campbell — the world changed. We left New York in late August. By the time we got back in late September — Lehman Brothers had collapsed. The economy was crumbling. The tech boom went boom. No one was about to invest in a startup, let alone a content startup. I had quit my big marketing job and used all of my savings to write my book and start my company. In the span of a few weeks, my dream started to dissolve into the background.
I ducked back into the workforce. I got another big marketing job. I tried to write occasionally. I attempted to host a podcast series during lunch and after work with Melissa Greenhawt. But the big job got bigger and all-consuming. My dream was dying a very slow death. And then I just stopped working on it at all. Life got in the way. Weeks, months, years went by. People would ask about it all the time. “Why did I give it up?” Or “Why is no one out there doing it?” I was amazed that there still was not a voice for fans like me.
(Sure, some people try: There are some great female bloggers covering individual teams. There are big sports media companies who continue to go after the very strong male fan base. And there are other big sports media companies that try to reach female fans — they just struggle to get the voice right. Brands like Gatorade and Budweiser are trying to reach sports-loving women. You can tell by their advertising messaging. There’s obviously something going on here. But, still, after all these years, no one is doing it right.)
But at that point, I was pretty sure my dream had died. I still had the marketing job and was working on another book on the side — but that part of me had been forced to retire, just like Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu. And then, Big Magic happened to me.
A bright, young woman named Ashley Wellington-Fahey came upon a HuffPo article I had written about female sports fans from years ago. She found me on LinkedIn and wrote, “Your article spoke to me. I’m doing a startup for women who love sports. Can we talk?”
Ashley asked me to be on her board. I could tell she was very smart, and savvy in ways I am not — so I told her no, I would not be on her board. I asked her if I could be her partner, instead. She said yes. Big Magic brought our dreams together. So here we are, co-founders who found each other on the interweb, on the verge of finally creating a voice for female sports fans.
Drum roll, please: Introducing, The Relish.
We will start with a smart, bold, and very clever newsletter every Monday morning for sports-loving women. And then, after lots of blood, sweat and tears — maybe our shared dream of a sports media empire for women will actually come true. (If we have learned anything from sports, it’s that anything is possible.)
So my dream didn’t really die. And I didn’t really retire. I guess I’m more like Brett Favre, who just pretended to retire. Several times. (But I promise I won’t be as annoying. And I promise not to send you any inappropriate texts.)
In return, promise us you’ll be on the lookout for The Relish. If this post speaks to you — sign up for our newsletter. And if you want to join us as a writer — reach out at email@example.com to learn more about what we’re doing and our truly awesome founding team.
And the moral of the story is: Dreams don’t ever really die. Maybe they were just watching golf one Sunday and took a very, very, very long nap.
Erica Boeke is the co-founder and Chief Content Officer of The Relish — a fresh new weekly newsletter for female sports fans. Although she was born in Chicago and lives in New York, Erica bleeds black and gold and plans to name her first-born child Franco Harris-Boeke. She interviewed for her first job as a writer for the SF Giants in the dugout at Candlestick Park, wearing a parka, of course. Erica co-wrote GameFace, a book for women who love pro sports, and is currently working on her next book about the summer she and her dad ushered for a minor league baseball team. She takes her hot dog with ketchup and onions (sorry Chicagoland). Her walk-up song is “Baby, I’m a Star,” because she’s still mourning Prince. Note: Her at-bat song changes daily.