For millions of years, men have been selected for traits like being able to throw a spear well and being able to run fast enough to escape a lion. We have always wanted these abilities ourselves. And we have wanted the other men in our tribe -- on our "team," so to speak -- to have those abilities as well. Thus, appreciation for physical prowess, both our own and others', holds an instinctive, visceral appeal to us.
This is an appeal which for the most part seems lost on women. Women can appreciate someone's nice build. And women can appreciate that someone is a star athlete. But women are rarely heart and soul into a sport themselves.
Sports simply seem to speak to something in men's souls. And they don't speak to most women the same way.
At around age 8 or 10 or 12, many boys will simply become fixated on a sport. The sport just becomes part of them. Forever after these boys will think the crack of a bat hitting the ball, or the thud of a tackle, or the swish of basketball net, the sweetest music in the universe. Such men will walk onto a baseball diamond, or into a football stadium, or into a basketball arena, and simply feel more alive. They love everything about their sport. And they often know everything about their sport.
Such men are not rare. (Such women are.)
Some men outgrow these feelings, but many don't. Men will usually keep some connection with their sport for the rest of their lives. They will follow their old high school team, or college team. They will get involved in fundraising for those teams. They will keep in touch with old sports friends, with whom they can reminisce. They will forever replay the highlight reels of their own careers in their minds. And they will forever gnash their teeth about their defeats.
(There has as yet been no That Championship Season written about women.)
To women, all of this is a foreign language. You almost never find a female who can recite voluminous statistics about her sport, and whose idea of a good time is arguing about the merits of various players. Women just don't get that analytical, or even enthusiastic, about sports. Most women just regard such avid interest in sports as silly.
Women don't greet each other with statements like, "Hey, how 'bout them Mets, huh?" Women don't wear jerseys with numbers of their favorite players. In most households, there is never a fight between husband and wife for the sports section.
Girls simply don't have the mentality that makes trading baseball cards seem fun.
This is not to say that girls don't become athletes. They do, frequently. But they tend to do it with a different mindset. Girls who join high school sports teams tend to become very involved in the team aspect of the sport, even if they do an individual sport like track. When boys join teams, they tend more to be in it for the individual glory.
Women who train together have been known to start having their monthly cycles in sync. Guys have no equivalent response.
For most girls, a team is a social group with a sport attached. For most boys, a team means an opportunity to do what they love, even if it means having to put up with other people they might not like.
Men just seem to be more competitive by nature. If two women go jogging together, the social interaction will consist mostly of offering each other moral support in their mutual quest to lose weight. A group of men who run together will focus more on determining who the best runner is. Men will do silly things like go faster at the end in order to "win," then pretend not be as winded as they are.
At the office, men will even do things like compete to see who can throw a piece of crumpled paper into the waste basket from a longer distance. You don't see women doing this.
If man is good at a sport, he will use every opportunity to show off his prowess. A man will actually invite someone to play tennis with him just so he can crush that person and show how good he is; this is actually more important to him than a good match. A skilled woman is less likely to have such an urge. If anything, she is as likely to pretend not to be as good as she is.
When a female athlete retires, she stays retired. Men don't seem to have that ability: when was the last time a champion boxer retired without making at least one comeback? A man never knows when it's his time, mostly because he never wants it to be that time. He just loves his sport (and himself) too much.
Women find boxing, and more recently, mixed martial arts, brutal and distasteful. And, of course, they're right: it is a bruising, bloody, barbaric sport. But that's exactly what men find appealing about it.
Women are as likely to be fans of men's teams as women's. In general, men are not fans of women's sports unless they're individual sports like track, or swimming, or gymnastics. How many men do you know who follow the WNBA? How many men show up for their games? At a certain level, this is understandable: it's just not same thrill to watch a lesser version of a sport, which is what women play.
And even when women attend a WNBA game, you get the sense they are doing it more out of a sense of sisterhood than because they think the Indiana Fever vs. the Washington Mystics will be an incredible game. They simply want to show solidarity, and support women's sports. There has never been a single male basketball fan who showed up at a Lakers game because he wanted to show brotherhood.
Of course, female fans are also better behaved. Women don't riot when their team wins the WNBA championship. Women don't heckle from the stands. Women don't stampede at soccer tournaments. And women don't get into fights in the stands.
Women live vicariously through their children as much as men do, but they tend not to do it through sports. One infamous hockey dad beat another hockey dad to death; we have yet to hear of a hockey mom doing that.
When we do, then -- and only then -- will we be able to say that women have achieved true equality in sports.