I would have reported sooner on my experience as a student at Football 101 Lessons for Ladies, but I picked up a Razorback fight song earworm that night and it had to die before I could think. It was a long week.
I should begin with disclosing some things.
One, Buzz 103.7 kindly provided complimentary tickets for a girlfriend and I to attend Football 101 Lessons for Ladies.
Two, you would not normally see me anywhere near an event called Lessons for Ladies.
Maybe you saw the Football 101 Lessons for Ladies ad here on Sporting Life Arkansas?
Let’s just say I am not in the target demographic for that pitch, however tongue-in-cheek. I’m not as touchy as some about the term “Ladies,” but a lot depends on context and who’s addressing whom. In this case–being schooled in a male-dominated sport by an all-male panel–it struck me as a bit…well, icky. LAADIES.
“Oh my God,” I scoffed to my husband when I saw the ad. “Who’s going to sign up for that?”
“You’d be surprised,” he said. “You should go cover it for Sporting Life.”
Which is how I came to be standing outside War Memorial Stadium last Tuesday night with a complimentary packet of strawberry-kiwi flavored lubricant in one hand, and a Budweiser wrist band on the other, double-hog-dared.
Now, there may be a time and place for consenting adults to exchange artificial fruit flavors. No judgement here. But being issued a truck stop adult novelty at registration didn’t do anything to raise my expectations of the syllabus.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #1: Ladies may need help getting excited about football.
We were directed to the “boutique” area, where the heavy aroma of scented candles wafted through displays of red and white home decor and monogrammed gifts. Also represented: a spa, a pet boutique, a very cool Arkansas-based t-shirt company, and a plastic surgery clinic, where I may have had a little too much fun mugging with the breast implants.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #2: Ladies may need to purchase special equipment to participate in football.
I got some wine, asked questions about Botox, and looked around at my sister ladies, who had presumably self-selected to be there.
It was a surprisingly diverse group: black, brown, and white; young, old, and in-between; varying heights of hair. I hadn’t been sure what to wear to a football lesson, and I was glad I guessed correctly and gone with heels and a dressy top. Everyone was dressed for a nice evening out.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #3: My husband was right about being surprised who signs up for Lessons for Ladies.
“Why are you here?” I asked a woman who appeared to be about my Mom’s age (I promise it didn’t sound as rude as it looks).
She explained that her husband is a big Razorback fan, and she was there to enhance her appreciation of his hobby. I thought that was sweet.
“You’re a nicer wife than I am,” I said.
I resisted asking if her husband was taking lessons in any of her interests. Let’s give him doubt’s benefit and picture him at Lessons for Gentlemen Gardeners, with a discount coupon for a chest-wax in his gift bag.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #4: Players are sometimes called upon to make a sacrifice for the team.
Eventually, we were summoned to a box overlooking the stadium, where our lessons were to officially take place. By this time, wine and beer had been imbibed, and the presenters had to implore the class to settle down. Unfortunately, this was attempted through repeated invocations of “LAADIES!” which only drove me to drink more.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #5: There isn’t enough pinot grigio in the world to make a joke about putting a woman in her place funny.
The main program was presented by the guys who host the sponsoring station’s morning show, an act that was one part rodeo clown, one part Zoolander, and one part Crash Davis. I leave it to you to figure it out who was who. Tommy Smith did a nice Top Ten Moments in Razorback History. He also endeared himself to me by calling us “women” (without reference to our place). There were a lot of introductions, back patting, historical anecdotes, etc. but not so much about game play. I was puzzled. Also, I noticed that the audience seemed to already know the score, so to speak. I wondered if I had somehow skipped to post-graduate lessons, until it occurred to me that the main draw might be something other than a football tutorial.
Something like football players, perhaps? As the former Razorbacks were brought out, the class was paying rapt attention. When we were summoned to the locker room for autographs, I began to suspect that this was probably the main event.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #6: There is no faded glory in Razorback football.
I couldn’t pick any one of those guys out of a lineup, but the excitement was contagious. I queued up with the true fans, and texted my husband to find out whose signature he coveted. I spent the next hour on a locker room scavenger hunt, chatting with some very gracious, classy guys, all of whom who spoke to me like a grown up woman, without a note of condescension. I later fell into a brief conversation with one veteran player at the bar, where we chatted about our teenage kids, and he candidly shared his ambivalence about his own son taking up such a violent game.
Among the autographs and good impressions I brought home: Ron Calcagni, Ricky Williams, Anthony Lucas, Cedric Cobbs, Leotis Harris, James Rouse, and Matt Jones.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #7: Hogs are not pigs.
As we emerged from the locker room, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to step out on the field. “Let’s get a picture,” I said to my friend, Sarabeth, who had gamely come along as my plus-one and silent receiver of “DID THAT JUST HAPPEN” eyebrow signals. The official photographer spotted us, and we hammed for the camera, cracking jokes about laadies loose on the turf. Photo opp over, I kicked off my high heeled shoes and strolled out into the floodlit field alone.
Football 101 Lessons for Ladies #8: In spite of all that can be ugly about football culture, there’s something transcendent in the game.
My overall takeaway from Lessons for Ladies was that football has a long way to go in accepting women as more than a fawning cheer section. But the moments that rose above cliche made me think it could have been a very different event. Maybe someone else in the planning stages thought so, too. When I opened my gift bag at home, I saw that the souvenir t-shirt was printed “Football 101, Women Only.”
It sounds like something this lady might like.
Kyran Pittman is the author of Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life. She is a frequent contributor to Good Housekeeping magazine, and continues to chronicle her semi-domesticated life at Planting Dandelions.com.