Jessica Luther cohosts the feminist sports podcast Burn It All Down and has written extensively about the intersection of sports and violence, including in her 2016 book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct. Kavitha A. Davidson, editorial director and cohost of the daily sports news podcast the Lead, focuses on the place where sports meet business, culture, race, and gender. In Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back (Univ. of Texas, Sept.), they merge their beats for a wide-ranging look at the moral quandaries inherent in fandom.
What got you interested in sports?
J.L.: I’ve always been a sports fan. My dad introduced me to football before I could talk, and I went to Florida State because I wanted to watch their football games. But I have a similar experience to many female sports fans: people don’t believe it, don’t believe you can talk about sports, and there’s this pressure to rattle off stats and details to prove yourself over and over in ways I’m sure men don’t have to. Social media, in part, has given people like us a voice.
K.A.D.: My parents came to America from India in 1991, and my mother started to fall in love with the Knicks and Patrick Ewing. The first time I saw sports live was a class trip to Yankee Stadium for the home opener in 1996. I didn’t know the chants or the rituals, but there was this beautiful communal experience. Sports were a way for me to connect with my classmates as a daughter of immigrants. It’s been useful in adulthood, but it’s also been isolating and alienating. You struggle to prove yourself as a sports fan, then prove you belong in that space as journalist.
Are attitudes toward women in sports starting to change?
J.L.: We use the chapter about the WNBA as an example of the significant changes that have happened in sports media. People who like sports like to watch and, given the opportunity, will watch women’s sports along with everything else, unless they’re truly sexist. Major League Baseball is targeting girls in real investment ways and it’s similar with the NFL, offering a way for girls to be fans and play; they’re recognizing there’s a market there. We can argue about whether they’re truly inclusive but the fans are coming along and people who felt left out are finding new spaces. I’m cautiously optimistic about where we’re heading.
K.A.D.: We’re getting over the idea that women playing and watching sports is counterintuitive or weird or unnatural. Now the people who love and watch women’s sports have found each other through social media, which has connected these communities across the country and the world—Jessica and I found each other on Twitter. We can talk about this as a trend that’s growing, but these people were already out there before Twitter, and now there’s a way to amplify them. One encouraging thing is that we now have feature writers and beat writers and TV personalities, and academic writers; there’s a range of the kind of work women can do in this space that was not the case five years ago.
How do you think readers will react to the difficult topics in the book?
J.L.: I assume female sports fans will find common ground with us. But also, I feel like there’s this “stick to sports” conversation we keep having. Our first chapter is about brain trauma in football and also in ice skating. And Kavitha wrote chapters about labor issues, and we learned that lots of sports fans are reckoning in their daily lives with stadiums being built in their communities. Sports affects them but not just as sports fans.
K.A.D.: There’s so much in the book that goes beyond sports, including bringing awareness to issues around social justice and women of color and LGBTQ players. We might be accused of complaining, or “oh, you hate sports and want to change it.” But I love sports so much I want it to be better.