What do you think of when you hear the term "soccer mom"?
It's probably something like this: a suburban, middle class, probably white lady, wearing too-expensive yoga pants, carting around hordes of young children. She comes in two stereotypical varieties -- the uber-supportive mother, ready to hand out orange slices and stick band-aids on scraped knees, or the cynic, with a sardonic sense of humor and secret stash of wine, judging those around her.
The term "soccer mom" really came to prominence in 1996, during the U.S. elections that year, as a new demographic that politicians would have to court.
Whether or not there are women who fit the "soccer mom" stereotype is not really the point here. Like all stereotypes, of course there are. The point of this article is to reconsider the use of the trope in pro soccer.
Of course, MLS came about the same year as the '96 elections, and conventional wisdom has it that the league went after families as the first marketing bloc. But after years of getting families and kids to attend games, MLS realized 8-year-olds not only tend to have little disposable income, they also don't have freedom of movement, being at the mercy of their parents, and so marketing efforts moved to young adults, who do have money, freedom of movement, and often, no children of their own.
The result? Soccer moms have not only been shunted to the side in thinking about the profile of MLS fans, but they are actively derided. For all the passion and contributions members of supporters groups provide (don't forget, there are moms amongst them), many members cite soccer moms' flighty nature, the fact that they bring in unruly kids to games who most likely won't be paying close attention to the action and therefore may be preoccupied themselves, as inauthentic, when the chanting, dancing and 90-plus minutes of devotion to the team is the picture of authenticity.
Listen, not every mom who goes to a soccer game is dying to watch the action. But to presume that because soccer moms fit a profile that is not male and in one's 20s doesn't make them true fans is also ridiculous.
The implied conclusion is **whispers** kinda sexist.
Generally, when fathers bring their kids to sporting events, it's seen as a wonderful occasion, a chance for fathers and sons or daughters to bond and share a communal experience. And it is wonderful.
But mothers aren't afforded that same attitude. They are perceived to be inauthentic fans, only transportation vessels to cart kids to games, with nobody paying attention to the action, and taking away from the atmosphere that is so valued in soccer.
This is pretty clearly bullshit. Not only are "soccer moms" stamped as non-fans in the first place because they happen to be female, just as a default in society, but their status as mothers has been turned into something to make them even less desirable in stadiums, all because of a catchy name that became famous around the time the league was founded.
It's time to re-examine our use of "soccer mom" as the trope of the inauthentic, uncool, unwanted fan. It takes all kinds in this world, and the stadium experience is richer for having "soccer moms" in it. Of course, some moms are very much interested in the action on the field (to say nothing of the phenomenon of dads who don't give a damn about watching soccer themselves) and they are raising the next generation of fans, with certainly some superfans lurking among the groupings of kids yelling at the top of their lungs and asking for more nachos.
And let me share a secret with you. Being a parent is exhausting. Every family is different, but many mothers are the primary caregivers of their children, and there are frequently days when they count down the hours until they put the kids to bed and get to fall asleep themselves. Mothers may not be interested in standing and chanting for two hours with the SGs because they are too tired. Having their kids captive in front of grown-ups kicking a ball around a field for a couple hours may give them enough of a mental break to push on, while giving the family itself a fun outing.
Yes, it's Mother's Day, and it's a day that comes with some personal resonance, but mothers should be welcome as soccer fans not just today but every day of the year. I don't know if it's worth it to try and make the "soccer mom" term cool, but at the very least let's stop using it as shorthand for the lame-o women who invade soccer games and aren't as "good" fans as everyone else. It's incorrect, it's sexist, and it's time to move on.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!