The Current

From Black Lives Matter to offcourt controversies, these sports writers say fans need to confront discomfort

Kavitha Davidson and Jessica Luther, co-authors of the book Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back, discuss how sports fans can reconcile their love of spectating with the recent pushbacks against both leagues and players.

Kavitha Davidson and Jessica Luther offer advice to conflicted sports fans

Jessica Luther and Kavitha Davidson, sports reporters and co-authors of In Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back, explore the recent controversies that have engulfed professional sports in the wake of mass protests. (Michael T. Davis/Damon Dahlen)

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Sports reporter and co-author of the book Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back Jessica Luther said that this feels like a historic moment. 

"It does really feel like nothing like this has happened in sport before," Luther, co-author of the book Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back, told The Current's Matt Galloway.

In the wake of mass protests following the the death of George Floyd, leagues like the NBA are openly acknowledging systemic racism by expressing support for movements like Black Lives Matter

In recent years these issues have become more prominent in professional sports, such as NFL player Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the U.S. national anthem before games

Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back was published in September. (University of Texas Press)
Luther noted that many passionate sports fans support these actions, but turned off by how some leagues, organisations and even athletes themselves have been unwilling to speak out publicly about these issues.

Fellow sports reporter Kavitha Davidson — the book's other co-author — added that now is a moment where individual athletes are struggling to just be seen as sources of entertainment. 

"We never like to recognise the individual humanity of these players who entertain us for a living," Davidson told Galloway. "But it got to a breaking point where these players were saying, 'we are black men and women in America and we cannot go on doing our jobs.'"

Living with discomfort

With sports being such a passion for many, as well as many fans identifying strongly with teams and players, Luther acknowledges that it can sometimes be difficult to even acknowledge the controversies that happen in the sports industry. 

Luther argues that fans need to be more aware of actions of athletes off the pitch, such as the 2014 arrest of NFL player Ray Rice for domestic violence.

"I think denial is a real defence mechanism for a lot of people when they're faced with these kinds of issues," she said. 

Davidson argues that being sports fan can often come with an internal struggle — and that it is important to allow fans space to come to their own conclusions.

"A huge thing that we learned in writing this book is just to be less judgmental of how fans deal with this and to be kinder to ourselves also for having these dilemmas," she said. 

"They mean that we're thinking critically of these things, but we're also human." 

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, centre, is widely considered to be a catalyst for recent instances of athletes speaking out against racism and injustice in the U.S. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

Although she acknowledges that we need to be more forgiving of fans, Davidson also believes that it's important to maintain a personal awareness [of news surrounding your favourite teams and players], and be vocal about grievances you may have about them.

"I think just the awareness in itself and holding leagues, players and ourselves accountable for some of these issues ... goes a much longer way," she said. 

"You're just going to have to sit in the discomfort, and I think that coming to that realisation is an important one … It's really hard to be uncomfortable," Luther added. 

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Diversity of experience 

Luther argues that the key to bettering professional sports is to acknowledge that sports need appeal to people of different experiences. 

"We want so many other people to feel loved back by sports, and the only way to do that is to just admit that we're all going to have to be uncomfortable," she said. 

As female sports reporters — and fans — they feel as if they have to work against assumptions or stereotypes made by a traditionally male sports fanbase.

"You're always looked at as this kind of unicorn, whether you're in a bar or in some kind of social setting," Davidson said. 

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As a survivor of sexual assault, the discomfort resonates for Davidson. 

Davidson grew up a fan of Kobe Bryant. The NBA star, who died in a helicopter crash in January, was accused of sexual assault during his career. 

"[For example] a woman watching a player [in a game] who's been accused of domestic violence is probably going to have a slightly different reaction to that than ... a male fan," she said.

"Just allowing for the fact that we do have diversity in how we experience these things, the dilemmas that we have and how we think about them, I think will also go a really long way."

Written by Oliver Thompson. Produced by Alison Masemann.

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