Women belong in sports: The Ladies of Broncos Country
Most people believe we have achieved equality within the sports community. From the Denver Broncos hire of coach Emily Zaler to the success and prominence of women in sports journalism are more prevalent now than ever before. In the Denver media market, we have tremendous examples such as Lindsay Jones of the Athletic, Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic (now covering the Washington Football Team), and Romi Bean (CBS Denver).
Each has provided a strong example of who has held or currently holds a strong position in the Denver media market. Their plight towards success must have been littered with barriers along the way.
Literature suggests that gender stereotypes impact the differential treatment received by women within the football community where many men feel they “do not belong”. Broncos Country is no different. The toxic nature associated with sexism minimizes the commonalities all of us have to root for our favorite team. However, these challenges also create an opportunity to come together if we take the time to listen.
Feb. 3, 2021, marked the celebration of girls and women and promotes equality in sports. Often, media members shout down the voices of women in sports, which perpetuates stereotypes that keep equality from becoming reality.
Diversity in Broncos Country is desperately needed, and long overdue. The Broncos themselves have begun to recognize diversity, and we as fans would be wise to as well.
Our effort at Predominantly Orange is to create an opportunity to amplify the voices of women throughout Broncos Country. To do so, we asked seven women what their thoughts are on a variety of topics ranging from their Broncos Fandom to their experiences of being a woman within Broncos Country.
Their courage and transparency represent so many other women who root for the Broncos, and more importantly, women in general as they find their way into male-dominated markets and take their rightful place in the world of sports.
What is the most important challenge facing women in Broncos Country today?
Women who interact within the Broncos Country face unique challenges men do not. Our participants shared their perspectives about the challenges women face within the Broncos community.
Sara stated her view, “I would say hands down is the sexism.”
Bri added, “At a macro level, there is toxicity to being online, more brazenly by trolls, however – the microaggressions of sexist comments made about appearance or opinion are rampant. I believe most interactions are well intended; I hope that progress continues to be made where the women of Broncos Country will not have to hesitate in their interactions with the public/each other for fear of unsolicited abuse. We build respect by showing respect.”
Lindsay said, “The lack of female voices. I am the co-host of a Denver Broncos podcast called “Broncos Brawl” and I do not know any other female podcast hosts except for the ladies with “The Snap” (Alexis and Sydney…if you are reading this, I adore you and we should team up). I feel a sense of extra pressure because if I get something wrong, I worry that my credibility will immediately be discarded.”
Tori’s feedback was, “Consistent with the rest of sports media as a whole, there is not a high representation of women. In the positions held by women, they are faced with being sexualized or discredited due to their gender by some. Hopefully Broncos Country continues to make strides in representation but also maintains a culture that supports women and calls out sexism.”
Megan reported, “I feel the challenge we are facing is the ‘men know more about sports than women do’. It has still been a constant topic, or some men feel the need to harass us, put us down, and say some nasty things.”
Kara declared, “I do not see women receiving enough respect or recognition for their opinions. Though the majority of experts that fans go to in Broncos Country are men, many women are knowledgeable and have different insights into the game. I will find often male fans will say things to women they would likely not say to other male fans. Women constantly feel they should justify their takes and have to deal with “mansplaining” or just being sexualized and not taken seriously.”
Finally, Bridget said, “I think some of the biggest challenges facing Broncos Country for women is being new to the game or the fandom especially when joining a platform such as Twitter.
Someone will inevitably ask you how long you have been a fan, why you are a fan, and some even test you with questions to prove your “commitment” to the fandom. Women are often accused of being bandwagoners, liking a sport because their significant other watches, and being a fan because they find the players attractive.
Another concern is that women constantly having concepts or basics explained to them without prompting. Being a new fan is never easy, especially if you are female. They are quickly ignored or worse — told they just do not get the game. Due to these concerns, women may become turned off from the game/community which eventually ends with them quitting.
I have had this experience when I first started playing Fantasy Football. I was told it was too complicated and they did not want me in their league. However, I was able to try Fantasy with a few friends later on and I learned in five minutes.
Another challenge women face is being told that females do not think like a business owner and rather are ruled by our emotions. Women are accused of being incapable of putting aside their feelings to understand the game and the business. This is completely untrue and annoying. We think like a human, and we are a fan that is not paid by a team. As such we are not responsible for participating in a particular thought process.”
Thematically, these women identify what so many others may feel, there are not viewed the same as men within Broncos Country. It would benefit us all to honor their perspective and work to improve the experiences of everyone in our Broncos Community.
What connects you to Broncos Country?
These ladies of Broncos Country may come from multiple walks of life and areas across the country, but they have one thing in common: their love for the Denver Broncos.
Lindsay shares her experience as a Broncos fan outside of Colorado: “The community aspect. Even though I do not live in Colorado (I am in Southern California), I have made so many connections through social media, Twitter in particular. I currently host a Denver Broncos podcast called “Broncos Brawl” and my co-host is a guy I met on Twitter. As COVID-19 has made life so lonely, it has been a real comfort having that resource and group of people to feel connected to all because we share a love for the same NFL team.”
Kara, also not in Colorado, adds on to the experience of being in Broncos Country, while not technically in Broncos Country: “One of my best friends told me to join the Twitter sports community so I would have the opportunity to connect with other Broncos fans since I only actually know two. I grew up in Bills Mafia territory, so this was exciting for me. Over time, I have been able to connect with some great fans, built some genuine friendships, and have had some excellent conversations. As someone that also has never been to Mile High Stadium, I have never felt more connected to the team and Broncos Country.”
On the opposite spectrum, Bri discusses her connection as a Coloradoan: “Colorado native and Broncos fan for life, I stumbled into this community and have been welcomed warmly by many. Nightly radio, podcasts, Twitter, and articles have ultra-connected me to the team and the fanbase.”
Sara feels Broncos Country goes much deeper than football. “First and foremost is the Broncos. But also, there is a lot of Broncos Country that can relate on deeper levels as well such as politics, philosophy or even things like parenting, similar life events, etc. It is a special bond that is almost instant with us.”
Megan adds to this same point: “The community on Twitter by engaging with each other. I have felt more connected with people I follow in Broncos Country than some people in real life. We can share our opinions, likes, dislikes, frustrations, happy and sad moments of our team and players with each other. When I see comments on my Broncos posts I laugh a lot because we are pretty much sharing the same thoughts about our team.”
Tori, who comes from a Broncos family, feels even more connected in Broncos Country: “My family has a long lineage of Broncos fans which has always kept me engaged. These days the Broncos Country Twitter has shown me amazing people in our fan base that connects me even more.”
Last but certainly not least, Bridget feels it is impossible to pick just one thing: “Everything – it is history, the players, the owners, the city, and so forth. It is all about the past, present, and future as well as the pure joy of the game. Even in bad years, there were games and seasons in which I found joy. There is always something to be happy about when the Broncos are playing.”
What is the greatest strength within Broncos Country?
Most of us find strength in our community, and our panel of respondents echoed just that.
Bri added, “The connection we all share where we can express our opinions respectfully while sharing a laugh or supporting one another is honestly beautiful and empowering.”
Tori expressed her view, “I have felt immense support from a majority of Broncos Country Twitter for women. Additionally, I think there is just an overall strong sense of community.”
Megan provided a glimpse into her experience as she said, “The greatest strength would be how we all have fun with each other on Twitter. The banter, GIFs, the memories of certain games/seasons have truly made this community great! I love how we engage a lot on Twitter. I found a lot of awesome people through the #BroncosCountry hashtag over the last few years I joined Twitter and now some of them have become some close friends of mine.”
Bridget’s strong connection showed in her answer as she stated, “The greatest strength of Broncos Country is the fans. The good ones, and even the bad ones, all show up. The fans at the end of the day want the team to be successful. The Super Bowl 50 parade highlighted that strength and showed the fans at our best. Even those who could not be there were happy that day. Nothing beats that feeling. Nothing.”
Kara’s answer provided some more depth to the topic as she said, “Broncos Country often feels like a family with a large sense of togetherness. There is a diverse community of fans from all over the country that has taken the time to get to know each other on a more personal level without ever having met.
With Broncos Country, it is much bigger than football. Broncos fans support each other, whether it is their business, blog, or podcast, or even just with personal issues/moments in their life. I see time and time again, if you are offensive to a member of Broncos Country, you should expect a backlash from a large number of our fans. “
Sara stated, “Our love for our Broncos! There seems to be a great love of our community and creating an inclusive environment (for the most part).”
Where does Broncos Country show our greatest weakness?
While Broncos Country certainly is strong in numbers and full of strong personalities and people, every fan base has a weakness, and the ladies chime in on what they feel Broncos Country could improve.
Megan expresses: “I feel some of Broncos Country feel the need to put others down for their opinions. We may not agree on certain topics regarding players, coaches, trades, etc. but that does not give anyone the right to put someone down for how they feel. I am an emotional person, especially when it comes to my team, so I tend to think emotionally a lot and I get super passionate, so it shows in my tweets. However, I have never put someone down ever, I have seen it from others, and I have been on the receiving end.”
Lindsay adds on to this topic: “Some of the men are super creepy and condescending…not MOST, but some of you need to relax with weird DMs you send us ladies LOL. Also, saying, “She knows what she’s talking about,” is not a compliment…”
Kara furthers the point: “It pains me to see but Broncos Country after a game loss or when they are in a losing position, tend to have a more aggressive and negative attitude. In a more extreme way, I have seen fans instantly turn to “firing everyone” and attacking each other for their differing thoughts instead of having a conversation about how to move forward and how they can improve.”
Tori notes: “It is hard to pin the actions of individuals on Broncos Country as a whole but a growth opportunity for some would be to support women in sports without feeling the need to sexualize them.”
We saw a common theme for many of these responses: instant gratification.
“We are an instant gratification fandom. This is possibly due to all the success we have enjoyed in the past; however, we cannot now grind toward a goal. The QB situation is extremely telling of that weakness. We cannot wait to sign a secondhand QB all the while skipping the development phase. Broncos Country needs to remember that Manning was an exception and not a rule”, Bridget says.
Sara adds, “Spoiled-ness” (it is not a word, but we can roll with it) and the desire for instant gratification.”
Finally, Bri gives us some words to live by “Impatience and emotion. I do not know if we want to consider ourselves spoiled, but it has been a rough go at it especially with 2020 being what it was, and when there is a storm there are waves. Supporting your favorite sports team comes with emotions, and within that, emotional reactions, sometimes I wonder if we forget there are real people behind each comment/reply.”
How did you first connect with the Broncos?
Most of us remember the first time rooting for the Broncos, and what brought us to that connection. Our panel provided a glimpse into how and why they have a deep connection to the Orange and Blue.
Tori’s connection also surrounds her connection to her family’s love for the Broncos. “My dad and grandma raised me as a fan. Having a father who taught me the game and allowed me to freely enjoy sports without question is a privilege I wish all women had. It is a bonus having a grandma who unapologetically loves the Broncos and always showed me women can be fans.”
Lindsay had a deep connection to her Broncos fandom beginning with the family. “My mom and my grandma (RIP) raised me to be a Broncos fan. I have tons of baby pictures to prove that it has always been a day one fandom for me. My fandom shot up during my junior year of high school when Tim Tebow was drafted…which is ironic because now I think he is a loser (lol). He took over as the starter during my senior year, and it was such a fun year to be a fan. I have never turned back.”
Kara remembered, “People I knew played mostly defensive positions so watching highlights from players like Steve Atwater was pretty common. I distinctly remember my friend’s older brother telling me ‘the Broncos just traded for a guy named Champ Bailey, watch for him.’ When I mentioned this to my family, they were so excited to show me. Watching and starting to recognize the players and understand was the first time I felt connected to the team.”
Sara first connected with the Broncos early on. “Grew up watching the Broncos with my mom and sister and I will never forget winning the back-to-back SBs, sporting oversized Shannon Sharpe jerseys and championship t-shirts, and driving up and down college with my mom with Broncos pom-poms hanging out the windows screaming as loud as we could.
For a moment, it seemed like all of Colorado was one. Even when we won SB 50, it seemed that way too. The parade in Denver was absolutely magical and just full of nothing but love and good vibes. Football has a way to make you get lost and away from all the crap in the world.”
Like most of us, Bridget recalled her connection beginning at home. “My grandma. She watched the game every Sunday. Her love for the game made me want to be part of it.”
Megan provided a glimpse into her connection. She recalled, “My grandpa has always been a football fan and when I was 7 one day I sat down and asked him to teach me plays penalties the players, etc. Been watching them since I was 7, but started remembering the important games and seasons at age 10. Which would have been the 1995-1996 season is where I started remembering that far back and then going forward.”
Bri’s connection started with a familiar memory for many of us. “I will never forget the night the Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII and stepping outside onto the porch to hear the honking, cheering, fireworks and just how awe-struck I was as a kid, unable to digest how incredible that night was for all of Broncos Country.”
Where do you see the biggest support for women within Broncos Country?
While women in sports may not always receive the equality and support they deserve, it is not completely absent. The ladies share with us where they feel more supported and appreciated.
Bridget starts with: “The biggest support I see for women in Broncos Country is from the Broncos media as well as a vast majority of the fans. It is important to note in my personal experience I have noted that the good guys outweigh any negative interactions. Some of the loudest supporters include guys like Ryan Edwards, Ben Allbright, Dr. Nick Manning, and Ian St. Clair. They constantly boost up Broncos Country and all while supporting the women.”
Sara agrees with Bridget: “Media.”
“The biggest support of women within Broncos Country is every respectful interaction, Orange and Blue related or not, that has been born of our common interest and love for our team. I have made some amazing connections and friends from just being myself in this space with all of you. Every time another member of Broncos Country steps in to support or respectfully debate/interact with the women of this fanbase we all will reap the benefits”, says Bri.
Tori applauds many men of Broncos Country for their support: “There is a piece of ‘Bronco Country men’ who are always there to support our ladies, but Broncos Country women have created a loving, supportive, and genuine community amongst ourselves as well.”
Megan adds: “The biggest support for women working Broncos Country honestly is other women, and seeing more women joining in on conversations with each other. Or when we all stick up for each other, and especially when there are men that are sticking up for us and have our backs as well.”
Kara furthers: “Honestly, with other women. The women in Broncos Country stick together, empower each other, and want to see each other grow. Many men appreciate and shine a light on women in sports they admire and like to interact with, and that is great too!”
“I see the most support from other women. I met an amazing woman named Megan through Twitter, and she has become such a champion of my podcast. Another awesome woman named Sofia reached out to me and let me know how much she relates to me on the show meant a lot to me. You two asking me and other women to partake in this survey is an incredible show of support.
Also, I have to give my co-host Alex major props. He allowed me to join Broncos Brawl without having to “prove” myself or my knowledge. He has never once talked down to me and constantly asks for my input and opinions on how we can continue to improve the show”, concludes Lindsay.
What is your first memory of the Denver Broncos?
Depending on our first connection to Broncos football, our memories differ. However, they may be more alike than we are aware of.
Sara recalled her first memory as simply, the “Three Amigos!!!”
Kara recalled, “I was too young to understand what was going on, but my first memory surrounds John Elway’s helicopter run. When my family was teaching me football when I was a bit older, I recalled seeing that run without a clue who it was or what the team was, wanted to re-watch it and decided this was the team I was going to follow.
Megan’s first memory was special to many of us, “It was the preseason game against the 49ers and Terrell Davis was a rookie and was put on special teams and make that incredible hit on the kickoff punt returner. I still get goosebumps when I think about that!”
Bri remembered, “The earliest memory I have of the Broncos would probably be my parents getting ready for the cold weather games with their giant puffy old school Bronco logo Starter jackets – which I still have to this day.”
Bridget’s first memory was one of the forgotten Denver Bronco’s stars. “My first memory of the Denver Broncos was of Rick Upchurch’s #80 scoring touchdowns. I was so little, but I wanted to be as fast as he was.
Tori went back to a fond memory. She stated, “The first game I remember watching was at my grandparents’ house and my grandma made my grandpa go finish the food so she could watch the drive that was happening.”
Lindsay’s first memory of the Broncos went something like this, “I remember how excited my mom was when the Broncos beat the Packers during Super Bowl 32. This memory is VERY vague since I was 4 years old, but I remember how excited she was while I had no idea what was going on LOL. My favorite memory is the “Mile High Miracle” when Tim Tebow beat the Steelers in the playoffs in OT. I think he is a total loser now, but that was incredible. “
How can the Denver Sports Media Market make itself a place where women feel empowered to engage with them?
Though every interaction is appropriate in a perfect world, it is not so in the sports media world. Our ladies give tips on how to make it better.
Megan shares her thoughts, “Make women feel safe and respected. That’s the main thing that has been lacking when it comes to women in sports or sports media.
Tori states, “Continuing pieces like this and including women on their staffs. It is incredibly powerful to see representation and if we, as a community, speak out against the sexism those women face, there will continue to be more women seeking sports media roles.”
Kara says: “Sports media and athletes have always had the power to start conversations about societal issues and get fans from all over joining in. Getting to a point where women feel empowered to engage with the majority is going to take time and everyone’s involvement. If a woman is good at their job in sports or is just a fan and wants to join the sports talk community, everyone in Denver sports media should show them the same level of respect. Simply including a woman on different segments more often will make it more and more conventional.”
“There are certain media members who have done an exceptional job of their interactions with the women who interact with them. They patiently answer questions, are responsive, welcoming, and they make sure to acknowledge us by giving us a voice. I wholeheartedly appreciate being considered within the conversation surrounding the team and being represented by media in which I listen to/read and respect”, answers Bri.
Bridget suggests: “They can empower that engagement by continuing to be a voice for women. As well as making a stand against situations that affect women such as domestic violence, welcoming new fans, helping fans understand the game, and educating new hopeful fans in a way that supports learning without belittling.”
“Include more female voices, hire more women, ask more women to guest on your endeavors, and do not be condescending”, Lindsay responds.
Finally, Sara answers: “More women. Make it known and loud that there is support for women too in every aspect and in whatever capacity you can, online, social media, on TV, marketing, etc.”
While many respect and appreciate the thoughts and ideas of women in sports, our work is far from finished. Until we see every woman treated with the same respect when speaking as a man, we have more work to do. Broncos Country is loved by not only these seven women but women and men alike across the country.
The social media platform that has become Broncos Country should be a safe space for all, and it does not always act as such.
On February 3rd, we celebrated the promotion of equality for women in sports.
However, we need to use each day as an opportunity to advocate for women in sports, and to never feel lesser than a man would.
We thank the seven wonderful ladies for their time and participation. They were so generous to share their insight with us and gave us thought-provoking content.
Broncos Country, and to every other NFL fan base, we have work to do.
Women belong in sports; it’s time to make them feel that way.
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**A special thank you to Nicholas Manning, a talented writer, and ally for women, for his help and inspiration for this project.**