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Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Boston's success has made women's fans savvier

By Kaitee Daley

With ESPN The Magazine dedicating a full issue to the city of Boston, espnW asks: What city has the most dedicated female fans? The debate kicks off with cases for Beantown and the Big Apple.

You know the ball that dropped to the warning track when Jacoby Ellsbury slammed into the center field wall Monday night? It might as well have been the collective heart of Red Sox Nation. This hasn't just been a bad month for our beloved ballclub. It's been a remote-control throwing, face-to-hands burying, historically awful string of games.

But Boston devotees are married to these teams, in sickness and in health. Caring isn't an option. It's engrained in the fibers of our fandom. Opposing teams know it. Opposing team's fans know it. That's why they take as much joy in our misery as they do their own teams' success.

Kaitee Daley
Kaitee Daley and her brother partake of the Foxborough tailgating scene.

New England's faithful -- both men and women -- set the bar.

Ask a woman wearing a Lakers T-shirt what happened last season and she may ask for clarification: "Which show: 'Keeping Up With The Kardashians' or 'Khloe and Lamar'?" Ask a New York Knicks fan the same and, well & good luck finding a Knicks fan. Ask a Celtics girl and brace yourself for a long tirade about the Perkins trade, the gruesome Rondo elbow sprain and the aging Big Three.

For years, we were lovable, loudmouth losers. Tack on 10 years and seven trophies and now we're all pompous, loudmouth jerks. But there's another label that's more concerning.

As a die-hard female fan, I think the hardest part of this new Boston sports era can be summed up in one phrase -- pink hats.

A few more people on the Boston bandwagon doesn't seem like a terrible burden, but the addition of pink hatters to the fan base has managed to cast a shadow of misperception about the legitimacy of Boston fans. Especially women.

For those who aren't familiar, the term "pink hat" was coined in the early 2000s to describe a fair-weather fan, typically female, who knows little about sports but screams "Sweet Caroline" with all the vigor of a disillusioned "American Idol" contestant. Pink hats measure a game by how many Facebook-profile-worthy photos it generates and think Red Auerbach is the color of a J. Crew sweater. That's not the technical definition, of course, but the moniker was born in Boston because cheering for successful teams is considered trendy. And no city has enjoyed as much success in the past decade as Beantown.

"The John Henry ownership group came along and succeeded in turning Fenway from a place to see a ballgame into this tourist destination," explained longtime Boston sports writer and comedian Jerry Thornton (WEEI, Barstool Sports). "It became baseball's Magic Kingdom, and the girl's pink Red Sox hat was its Mickey Mouse ears."

Boston's remarkable World Series run in 2004 certainly spiked "kingdom" attendance. Longtime Fenway frequenters complained about higher prices of tickets and concessions and the prevalence of fans paying more attention to their Blackberries than the game. (Remember, this is coming from a group of people who sit for hours in seats made for 12-year-olds.) For those who had suffered through years or decades of mediocrity, the presence of these faux fans marked the beginning of rampant resentment toward a new breed of touristy pretend Red Sox-phile.

There were plenty of clueless bandwagon guys, but girls became the natural target for righteous Bostonians who assumed we knew nothing about sports in the first place. I tried to prove I belonged: When dissecting a Patriots game, I made sure to mention the Rodney Harrison tackles as much as the Tom Brady touchdowns. When I wore a Johnny Damon jersey, I felt the need to emphasize that I liked the way he played baseball, not his forearms and jaw line. I was the girl who studied point guards because I wanted to play college ball, not the girl who studied them for their looks.

My insecurity has since waned, but the pink hat backlash hasn't.

Today, most female Boston fans eschew pink hats in order to maintain legitimacy. "The sale of pink apparel has declined dramatically. It's nearly played out," said Scott Saklad, manager of the Red Sox team store on Yawkey Way. Despite branding its loungewear line "PINK," even Victoria's Secret got the memo. This is the second year the Red Sox team store has sold PINK products, and though Sakland says the line has done extremely well, it's nearly impossible to spot an actual pink PINK item in the store.

Saklad believes the drop-off has more to do with changing fashion tastes than negative stigma, but every one of the women I interviewed on the subject begged to differ. "This is actually something my mom's friend bought for her," explained one girl in pink headgear. "I just couldn't find my jersey, so I threw it on. I'm not one of those fans."

Those fans, huh? It seems silly. What you wear doesn't really make you more or less a fan. But it speaks to the power, and often irrational nature, of New England's sports mentality. A Yankee fitted and a front-row seat may earn you respect in the Big Apple, but in Boston, knowledge, passion and authenticity reign supreme. And it makes sense.

In Boston, we don't have year-round beaches or a night-life that never sleeps. We don't have huge college football games where we can tailgate our faces off and drool over NFL prospects. We have the Bruins, Celts, Sox and Pats. And the majority of women I spend time with really know their stuff.

But there are also more than 250,000 college students in greater Boston, many of them without preexisting sports loyalties and starving for group identity who find a home amongst the die hards.

"You don't have the caliber of college football and basketball talent in the Northeast like you do at a bigger school," explained Ohio State alum and New Hampshire-native Dallys Malenfant, 32. "Everyone in Ohio is an OSU fan because the Browns and Bengals are awful," she said. "Here in New England, the pro teams are all we have, so I guess we're lucky they're good."

Even when they weren't good, rooting for a team like the Patriots with thousands of other fans is different than supporting a football team at a small liberal arts school. At those institutions -- you know, the ones that are almost as ubiquitous as Dunkin' Donuts in New England -- chances are you live down the hall from one of the best athletes on the field. They aren't getting big bucks for autographed memorabilia.

Kim Miner, a 2011 graduate of Tufts University and lifelong Boston fan, noticed the ease with which out-of-towners adapted to their new sports scene. "Students enjoy the sports teams at Tufts, but going to those games isn't as popular as going to a Celtics game. Boston has a cool pro fan base, especially if you don't have any prior allegiances."

For a generation of women who are already participating in sports more than ever, the success of Boston teams only increased their sports savvy. The more teams are talked about, blogged about, Tweeted about, the more you absorb. The Patriots Planet message board is jammed with women who would rather talk about Brady's recent success with the no-huddle than his supermodel wife.

Truth be told, most Patriots fans can't stand the Hollywood Brady. We're a sloppy, dysfunctional group who relate far more to Belichick's cut off sweatshirt than Brady's Euro man-bangs. There's a reason why "Real Housewives of Boston" doesn't exist. And a reason why showing up at halftime of a game (sorry, L.A.) sounds almost criminal.

In my small Vermont hometown, I'd eat supper to the sound of Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo calling a Sox game. And I'd venture to guess the same thing happens in homes across New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut (the better half), and, of course, Massachusetts. Maybe we have nothing better to do. And maybe a few women go a little heavy on the Red Sox car decals. But don't knock our knowledge because our teams are likeable and successful.

New York can have A-Rod, Jeter and their various actress girlfriends. They can have Jay-Z making the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can. And yes, congrats on that inexplicable David Tyree catch.

But Boston has amazing female fans. And duckboat parades. Lots of 'em.

Kaitee Daley is an editor for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter @daleysports.