We're here. We cheer. Get used to it.

I love sports. Passionately. I’m the chick asking the bartender to switch the channel so I can watch SportsCenter and check scores. The one whose iPad pings every time there’s news from MLB AtBat. The one who has two columns in TweetDeck just for sports – one for news, one for my like-minded crazy fan friends – about half of whom are female.

Yep. It’s true. Women like sports. Women follow sports. Women know sports.

Ta. Da.

More than ever, the theoretical sports fan clubhouse is co-ed. The reality is that women aren’t always being welcomed in with a hale and hearty how-do-you–do. Sometimes that clubhouse is locked. Or the front door slammed in a face. And sometimes windows are opened and trash in the form of vitriolic comments hurled out onto bystanders.

Riddle me this: what is it about a woman who is a sports fan that is so threatening? Especially in the online world of sports information and commentary. Why do some men find it necessary to demean, harass and threaten female sports fans? That’s not a simple question. And there’s no simple answer.

Some personal background: I cannot remember a time when I was not a sports fan. On the nature versus nurture spectrum, I fall smack in the middle when it comes to who I am. In the words of hotel desk clerk and alleged twisted old fruit Tucker Smitty Brown, “I am just as God made me, sir.”** Both naturally and nurturally. Sportingly.

Sports were just a part of life growing up in west coast Florida. Daddy played college baseball and was drafted by a Major League team – but had to change gears due to an ankle injury. My parents had season tickets to Florida Gator football games. We as a family sat through every single disheartening game during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers first season. I watched tennis. Golf. Football. Baseball. Basketball. Hockey was foreign to me – in those days, when dinosaurs and such roamed the earth, hockey was not part of the Florida sports market. It was played up north, where things were cold.

I took lunch money from a boy named Harold (name changed to protect the sucker) when the Reds took the ’75 World Series from the Red Sox. Lost lunch money to a boy named Wally (name changed to protect the jerk) when the Vikings bit the big one and lost to the Raiders in the ’77 Super Bowl. I can still name the field by position of the ’75 Reds.

Had a poster of McHale/Bird/Parrish, aka The Jolly Green Giants hanging in every post-collegiate apartment in which I resided until it fell apart. Cried when Len Bias died (which I still contend led to the decline of the Celtics empire.) Not so good at reading defensive structure but I do know what’s what on the offensive side of a football play. I still can’t distinguish one kind of pitch, save for a knuckleball, from another. And when you start talking about sabermetrics, my eyes do kind of glaze over – I’m so right-brained, it’s ridiculous and you know… statistics.

Suffice it to say -- I'm a legit, life-long sports fan. Know enough about it to be able to watch with purpose and to hold my own in a deeper-than-small-talk conversation. Many of my gal pals are also sports fans. We enjoy sports. We attend sporting events together. We are involved with sports talk on social media.

FYI: We are not unusual. Or weird.

We’re here. We cheer. Get used to it.

Fortunately, I can’t speak to being harassed in person over my love of sports, since it’s never happened to me to any serious degree. When some chucklehead has given me a hard time in a bar or at a game, I can either defuse the situation with charm (hush) or shut things down with "just the facts, sir."

However... there was that time at the ’04 Peach Bowl when the Mister had to physically pull me away from getting into a verbal-or-maybe-more altercation with an asshat Miami fan because he inserted himself into my conversation after the game to express his stupid opinions about the Gators and… over 10 years later and I’m still a little agitated about the whole thing.

But I digress.

Even though he was a gigantic asshat.

So. What is it about female sports fans that male sports fans finds to be so awful? Are we threatening to them? Earnest questions. I ask because I do not know. I ask to seek understanding -- and to perhaps help shepherd solutions.

Women don’t watch sports like men do. We’re not wired the same way (Mars/Venus/Yada/Yada). We are generated by emotion. The experience. We’re passionate by nature. And that transfers to the emotions we feel when watching a game, particularly one in which our favorite team is playing.

Ashley Judd is a passionate, educated and well-spoken fan of the teams of her alma mater, the University of Kentucky. When she deigned to express her opinions on Twitter about game play during a recent basketball game in the SEC Tournament, she was barraged with crude name-calling, offensive innuendo and a backlash that was both horrific and perplexing. All because she shared her take on a basketball game. A BASKETBALL GAME. No one – NO ONE – should be subjected to such treatment in such a situation. Would you want your mama hearing you say such things? A clichéd question, but it’s true. If you don’t have anything nice (or polite. or respectful) to say – don’t say it.

And PS: when you speak before you think or show your ass via words on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or Reddit… WE CAN HEAR YOU. There is no such thing as off-the-record in cyberspace.

The anonymity of the Internet provides social media users with a cloak behind which they can hide and just vomit out verbal venom. I believe Ashley’s situation belies a bigger issue with gender perception and relationships – but that’s not new information. And a topic for another soapbox on another day. I am fortunate to have guy pals who respect me and my opinions when it comes to sports. No backlash there, save for banter when it comes to being on opposite sides of the aisle in a team rivalry. Or when I snake a player in a fantasy football draft. Mwah ha ha.

When I was a contributor to a local sports blog, I received my share of snarky comments. That’s when I learned to not read the comments (a good rule of thumb for life in general.) I took it as a sign that at least people other than my parents and friends were reading what I wrote. I’ve also been on the receiving end of some combative tweets thanks to tracking via hashtag when I’ve live tweeted a sporting event.

I’ve been...
... told to shut up
... called stupid
... declared to be “out of your league”
... labeled a bitch

The one that really pissed me off: I was told to calm down "little lady" when I got my dander up over something.

No one tells me to calm down. No. One. Especially if you’re someone I do not know. Let's not even discuss the "little lady" bit. I'm trying to keep the profanity down here.

For the record, the most emotion I’ve ever seen expressed during a sporting event happened at the ’91 Super Bowl, which was held in Tampa at the Big Sombrero. Buffalo Bills versus New York Giants. The Gulf War had just started and we all pulled ourselves away from CNN to undergo heightened security checks (Tampa Stadium was just a stone’s throw away from Command Central at MacDill Air Force Base) and to hear Whitney Houston sing her iconic rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. It was an emotionally-charged environment, even before the game started. And then came the Bills’ missed field goal that sealed a one-point victory for the Giants. I was sitting in a section full of Bills’ fans. As the clock ticked down, grown men had tears rolling down their faces, unashamed to demonstrate their heartbreak. Fathers comforted sons. Husbands and wives clung to each other.

A purer representation of the Agony of Defeat I’d never seen, nor have seen since.

Calm down my ass.

Gents, we don’t want to best you with our statistical knowledge nor do we want to be tested on facts and figures to prove our worthiness as a fan. We don’t want to crash your inner sanctum or smoke your cigars while we watch football on Sunday afternoons. We might comment about how nice a player's smile is or about the fit of the uniforms (and if you have a problem with that, here's a copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue for you to peruse while you ponder this...) We don’t want to be relegated to wearing pink sports apparel – the gear in the team colors suits us just fine. We want to watch games and matches and meets and tournaments in the way that makes us happiest. Whatever that may be.

More than anything, we want to be respected.

Not too much to ask, is it?

** A This Is Spinal Tap reference. In case you were wondering.

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