Life Imitates Heart

Don’t read the comment section during March Madness*

*If your March Madness includes women’s basketball.

We should know better by now. The comment section on the internet is one of the grossest, most misogynistic places I’ve ever laid eyes on, full of an angry breed of people who apparently get off on leaving their grimy, Cheeto-dust cyber-fingerprints on every corner of the internet.

And, man, do these angry dudes love to circle women’s basketball articles like vultures (and though out of all women’s sports I really only follow women’s basketball, I think I can safely assume they come a-cawing at other women’s sports too). So much so that EspnW actually did away with their comment section altogether. Quietly, they took away people’s ability to discuss, argue, and rejoice in their teams because their comment section was so infested with misogynistic rhetoric.

Condescending, demeaning comments aside, that’s sad. It’s sad that there can’t be a safe place for women’s basketball fans to discuss the sport they love and invest their time, money, and energy in. It’s sad that a sport – a source of entertainment and passion and extreme emotional investment – is constantly reduced to the gender qualifier that precedes it.

Disgusting and obnoxious language permeates the message board of every sport, men’s or women’s teams. Sports on their own seem to elicit a certain level of competitive nastiness from fans. And while I dislike that culture, I’m a competitive, hot-blooded person myself, and can understand the origins of these mean-spirited comments in regards to collegiate competition.

However, that’s not what the attack on women’s sports is about.

Anytime I let my eyes wander down to the comment section on a UConn Women’s Basketball article, the majority of the comments are from men who’d “rather watch paint dry” or think “women should be in the kitchen” or “watching snails mate is FAR more interesting than women’s basketball.”

Every time.

And every time I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’ll discover a thread of people who are actually talking about the sport the way it deserves to be spoken about by fans. But that is a rarity. Somewhere out there in cyberspace is a contingent of men waiting for their shining moment of perverse pleasure where they get to type out “make me a sandwich.”

At twenty-five, I’m comfortable and self-aware enough to fully realize hurt people hurt people. These comments go beyond meanness; bullying has always been a symptom of a much bigger problem, the lack of something that a person makes up for with performative, brutish behaviors. I imagine that the people behind these messages are lacking in many things. To intentionally and vehemently seek to diminish a person or group of people says much more about the attacker than the attacked. How we treat people has little to do with them and everything to do with the emotional baggage we bring to our interactions.

But attacks still leave wounds. No amount of empathy keeps me from getting angry. No amount of explanation makes being an asshole okay. If you don’t like women’s basketball, that’s fine. I’m not here to say you have to like it. I dislike football. So I don’t watch it, I don’t read about it, and I definitely don’t stake out the comment section to be an asshole. It’s not that hard.

But I’ll also never know what it’s like to feel the need to claim superiority based on my gender, which is what this is really about. Maybe that is hard?

The tragedy here is that sports are historically a beacon of unity, and the comment section should be an extension of that. Now, by force (e.g. comment sections being closed) or by revulsion, millions of women’s sports fans no longer have safe access to these spaces. And in a time when we are seeing so many female voices amplified, this tide seems to be slipping backward.

I don’t have many close friends who are invested in women’s basketball, and with every comment section seemingly accompanied by a proceed-with-extreme-caution sign, my experience as a fan has mostly been one of solitary enjoyment.

Every March is a reminder that I rather continue to enjoy basketball alone than be forced to fish through garbage comments for a single reprieve.

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