Joanne O’Riordan: Rampant misogyny within sporting world alienates female fans

Stars’ fall from grace inevitably particularly painful for female supporters

For those who are unaware and those who don't follow me on social media, I can tell you that I've been actively rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers for almost 10 years now.

My eldest brother, a 49ers fan, insisted that I join him and stay up bleary-eyed, me wondering how a game that effectively is set pieces can be interesting . . . it’s more than interesting.

I picked the Steelers for multiple reasons. Firstly, my dad works in steel, which was a no-brainer. Secondly, I was obsessed with the Rooney family, the connections to Ireland and, of course, the Rooney Rule.

I can remember my brother half-mentioning allegations made regarding Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers' franchise quarterback, but that's all there was to it. So, when Big Ben announced his retirement, I knew there was one thing I had to reckon with; these allegations my brother tipped me off about.

Like me, Diana has had to grapple with the paradox of supporting a team where the main man has allegedly done unspeakable things to women

Coincidentally, an excellent article by Diana Moskovitz in the Defector was brought onto my timeline after a mutual follower liked it.

The headline read “What I’ll Remember About Ben Roethlisberger” and gave an exhaustive timeline, report and unbiased information about the allegations that have followed Big Ben. If you get the time, read it, and I guarantee you’ll be outraged afterwards.

Like me, Diana is a Steelers fan along with her entire family and generations before her. Like me, Diana has had to grapple with the paradox of supporting a team where the main man has allegedly done unspeakable things to women. And like me, she concedes that, unfortunately, while those on the team will inevitably let you down, it’s bloody hard to not suddenly care about the team anymore.

So, on Sunday, when tweets and messages were popping up on my phone mentioning and cursing Mason Greenwood, that sick-to-my-stomach feeling returned. Here's another player my friends and I weirdly wanted to protect, see grow and ensure his career path would inspire other black children.

Mason Greenwood has been publicly accused by a woman of domestic violence and sexual assault. Pictures surfaced on the woman's Instagram with blood coming from her mouth, along with multiple bruises.

Following that, an audio file was shared that can only be described as incredibly upsetting. The police investigated and arrested Greenwood, and his club, Man United, have said Greenwood won’t be near the squad. It’s unclear whether he will still be paid.

Gang rape

As if that didn't reinforce the feeling women aren't very welcome in the world of football, it emerged that Rayo Vallecano had hired a manager for their women's team who once told staff of an underage team to gang rape a girl as a team bonding exercise, to mimic three footballers from the Spanish third division team Arandina CF who were each sentenced to 38 years in prison for the gang-rape of a 15-year-old girl in 2017. Rayo were aware of the phone conversation and have said everything is essentially hunky-dory.

While we should not forget the victim, or any victims who have been assaulted by sportsmen, football and sport will always try to move on. Business is business, and there will always be something shinier to distract fans.

Football clubs are cultural institutions, and the problem is that people always want to believe the best in football

But what can’t and shouldn’t be forgotten is how clubs’ behaviour is received, particularly by female fans. Every single response by clubs reiterates that women are a total afterthought, outsiders and are collateral damage when protecting prized assets.

So, now what?

This is a perfect moment to highlight the importance of actively fighting the glorification of football players and other athletes. The fact that they’re skilled with a ball, run really fast or throw very far does not mean they’re good people; having a lot of money and being famous does not equal being educated and respectful.

There is nothing in this profession that can be linked to that. These are random men who just happen to have an outrageous talent. They’re not all gods, and they’re certainly not all role models. In fact, we genuinely don’t know anything about them, only what they decide to show us. Let this be an opportunity to rip these men off the pedestal everybody puts them on.

Football clubs are cultural institutions, and the problem is that people always want to believe the best in football, their club, and their players. The reality is the sport is deeply misogynistic, clubs often excuse it if not outright enable it, and players are powerful, wealthy men who know the system will work in their favour.

So while it can be tough to understand that your hero has flaws, we must get better at acknowledging a flaw, not letting them hide behind it and certainly not surrounding young players or athletes with yes men and enablers.

It’s really hard being a woman who loves football and her club, and it’s incredibly hard to be viewed as an afterthought or collateral damage. Clubs and players must actively acknowledge that great heroes could possibly have significant flaws.

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