In my 24 years on earth I have been called a tomboy more times than I can possibly count. I’ve always displayed characteristics that aren’t stereotypically feminine and my outlandish obsession with rugby league has never helped this. For so many people, my love of sport has defined me as a person and that definition was always that I was a tomboy.
I moved to Australia when I was 8 years old after spending my childhood years in a suburban cul-de-sac of the United States playing games with all of the boys in my neighbourhood. It was a coincidence that I was surrounded by boys but it wasn’t a coincidence that I got along with them more than the girls. It’s was in my nature to want to play kickball or softball or basketball or anything that didn’t involve Barbie dolls or makeup. When I was 7 years old I had my first holy communion and I made my mother double check the street to make sure none of the boys saw me in my white, frilly dress. I couldn’t dare have my reputation as the tomboy ruined, could I?
As I got older, I started to want to ruin the reputation. I was growing into a young lady and although my passion for sports never died and continued to blossom, I was suddenly enjoying learning more about fashion or hair and makeup. I felt confused and unsure of myself. How can a girl like sports and fashion as well? A question that would take me many years to answer.
In 2009, Jarryd Hayne singlehandedly took the Parramatta Eels to the NRL grand final. It was a miracle sports story that quickly became the talking point of Parramatta and all of the surrounding suburbs. I was a 15 year old girl in my ninth year of school - a high school ironically that was immediately across the road from Parramatta Stadium - and my interest was grabbed. My father, grandfather, cousin and uncle have always loved rugby league so I wasn’t unfamiliar to the game however it definitely didn’t have a priority in my life. In 2010, this changed. Very quickly, this game and the Parramatta Eels became my life.
I was the weird girl obsessed with Jarryd Hayne. Ask anyone I went to high school with and, besides being the American girl who always hurt herself, I was - in the words of one of my high school best friends Emylyn - the “Jarryd Hayne lover”. When Hayne announced he was leaving the NRL after the 2014 season I had girls who I hadn’t spoken to since graduation in 2012 messaging me to send me their condolences, no joke. Realistically though, for the majority it was the idea that I thought the star fullback was attractive but really behind the newspaper cutouts hung up in my locker, I was learning the game. Jarryd Hayne planted a seed in my heart but the game watered that seed and it bloomed into a beautiful, very large rose.
My persona surrounding Jarryd Hayne didn't end quickly. It took me many years to be taken seriously as an actual rugby league fan rather than just a frantic teenager. After I graduated from high school, I went on to university and quickly discovered who was and wasn't a rugby league fan. I formed a friendship and occasional rivalry with two Bulldogs supporters. We would get into debates here or there and one afternoon we got into a debate about the 2014 State of Origin series. We were arguing whether Jarryd Hayne or Trent Hodkinson won the blues the series and once the debate had gotten very heated and we had all run out of legitimate arguments one of them scuffed “What would you know about rugby league anyway?”
A throw away comment by someone who just wanted to win an argument but one that stuck with me forever. It wasn’t the first time I had heard something like that, in fact for the most part I had gotten used to it but for some reason this one stood out. Maybe because I knew I was actually giving factual, legitimate arguments. I knew that what I was saying wasn’t far fetched and that I deserved more than that. It was in that moment I realised that so many guys didn’t take women who loved the game seriously. For them, it was no more than an appreciation for men in shorts and tight jerseys. They couldn’t grasp their head around the idea that I might actually just know more than them. There was no way I could possibly be sitting at home studying the rules and logistics of the game because I wear a dress and makeup.
With my love for the game came my love for all things rugby league. I would watch the pre and post game shows as well as shows such as Channel 9’s The Footy Show. For so many years, I listened to men talk about the game I loved. Then I encountered Lara Pitt. She wasn’t necessarily the first woman to become a face for the NRL but she was the first that I really took notice of. A beautiful, elegant woman in a dress who was given the opportunity to put her love for the game to work. Most importantly though, when she spoke people listened. Men listened. When I watched Lara my eyes were suddenly opened to the fact that I wasn’t alone. The game was flooding with women in league fighting to inspire young girls across Australia. These women instilled a belief in my heart that there are men out there who will respect my love, knowledge and understanding of the game rather than immediately dismissing me for my gender. From Lara Pitt to Erin Molan to Yvonne Sampson, the list is countless now. I may just be a girl with a small blog but I too am a woman in league and I’m so proud.
The greatest lesson that I’ve had to teach myself, with the help of so many women in league, is that my love for rugby league does not make me any less of a woman. My love of rugby league and all sports, my love of makeup, my love of television shows, my clumsiness, my stubbornness and my awkwardness all make me who I am as a person. Nothing makes me more or less of a woman.
I may never play rugby league in my life time. This blog may never grow any further than the 200 or so followers on Twitter but regardless, I know I have a place in rugby league. Women no longer need to be ashamed of their love for the game. Women can and are making a difference in the greatest game on earth.
Somewhere out there is an 8 year old girl playing out in the streets with the boys in the neighbourhood. She may be confused and unsure if her love for sports is okay or if she will ever matter in the sports industry. The Women in League round for the NRL tells her that she does matter.