Why Men Started Wearing Female Athlete Jerseys
The newly heightened demand for jerseys of women athletes coincides with the 2019 women’s World Cup Final earning better television ratings in the U.S. than the 2018 men’s final, and women’s college basketball attendance eclipsing men’s attendance at several schools, including Oregon, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, and Oregon State. A 2018 study by Nielsen indicated that 84 percent of general sports fans—51 percent of whom are men—are fans of women’s sports.
But selling merchandise of women athletes, particularly for men, breaks new ground. Lindsay Parks Pieper, a professor of sport management at the University of Lynchburg who researches gender in sports, describes the choice to wear an athlete’s jersey as going “all-in” on that person—representing their playing style, their politics, their personality. The many boys who dressed up like women’s national soccer team star Megan Rapinoe for Halloween were portraying an activist who has kneeled like Colin Kaepernick and slammed Donald Trump, in addition to a soccer star.
The jersey is also a statement: Unlike flipping to a game on TV, a man who wears a woman’s jersey publicly recognizes and identifies with a woman athlete. And given Rapinoe and her teammates’ fight for equal pay, the WNBA’s labor victory to earn higher salaries, and Serena Williams’s years of challenging white notions of femininity, that identification implies a justice-oriented message that goes beyond what happens in a stadium. “This is a new frontier for women’s sports,” Parks Pieper says.
The mainstream popularity of jerseys traces back to the 1990s. Leagues and teams cut apparel deals with brands like Champion, Reebok, Nike, and Starter, making jerseys available at malls and big-box stores rather than from the motley mix of third-party vendors that had sold them in the 1970s and 1980s. Hip-hop culture contributed to the growth, too. Tupac was wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey during an infamous dustup with the media after leaving a New York courthouse (he once also sported a Jeff Capel Duke jersey, while posing with Stephen Baldwin). Mýa and Mariah Carey wore Michael Jordan jersey dresses, and Da Brat, Missy Elliott, and Aaliyah regularly wore personalized baseball and basketball jerseys.
But teams and brands were slow to sell jerseys of women athletes, even though the passage of Title IX in 1972 had led to major universities starting women’s intercollegiate teams, and athletes like University of Southern California basketball players Lisa Leslie and Cheryl Miller, among the millions of girls and women who seized Title IX opportunities, had become mainstream stars.
Rebecca Lobo, the mid-90s superstar at the University of Connecticut, says her college jersey was never for sale. In 1992, some 40,000 women played Division I sports, compared to 80,000-plus now. Fans could buy jerseys of male college athletes at campus stores and through mail-order catalogues, but the closest anyone got to dressing in her No. 50, she says, were young fans whose “parents had taken them to Michael’s, and they got a Sharpie and made a shirt.” The first time she remembers seeing any jerseys of women basketball players for sale was in the run-up to the 1996 Olympics.
In 1997, the newly-launched WNBA released jerseys for three athletes on each team (Sears and J.C. Penney partnered with the WNBA to sell them—it was a different time). Men didn’t wear the jerseys, but Lobo distinctly recalls seeing boys at games. “I remember even as a 24-year-old thinking wow, like this kid is going to grow up looking at girls a little bit differently, if he’s looking at me differently and wearing my jersey,” she says.
Source : Mark Dent Link