Twice a season, I travel from the Greater Milwaukee area down to Bridgeview, IL, to catch a Red Stars game. I work most weekends, and I’m a public transport person, so when I go, it’s a big deal. I take the day off, I borrow or rent a car, and I have a great time.
No matter who wins or loses, I’m there to enjoy a great game of soccer. I get seats in roughly the same area each time, and there’s a season ticket holder who sits next to me who I’ve discovered is very nice and enthusiastic about soccer. I’ve done the two games a season for two years now, and every game I’ve been to, she’s been there, cheering on the players.
This past Saturday, the Orlando Pride were in town, and it was a fabulous game.
An admission? Because I don’t do the season ticket thing, I splurge on the games I go to, and get seats where I can practically see the sweat dripping off the players’ brows. And I’ve done the thing where I stay after–once to get a picture with Christie Pearce (because a picture with Captain America!) and once to thank Ali Krieger for her response to an article I wrote on being a fat fan of soccer. So don’t get me wrong, I understand the desire to rush down to the barrier and hopefully get a chance to meet a player.
This game, though, was going to be crazy.
And so I, and the woman who sits next to me, left our seats immediately after the game ended, wanting to get out of the way of the rush we knew was coming. As the stadium announcer was still imploring fans to be careful and considerate as they made their way to the barrier, eager to see Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, Marta, and others, we were trying to work our way up the stairs. But both sides of the stairs were blocked by young girls and their parents trying to get down. Ironically, trying to get into our seats, our places that we were leaving so they could get closer.
I’ve written before about how sports stadiums aren’t built for larger fans. And Toyota Park is no different. So getting up the steps as the crowd of people were rushing down was actually a little nerve-wracking and I saw more than one grown adult get pushed off-balance as people kept coming down. It bottle-necked immediately, with fans filling both sides and preventing people who were trying to leave from getting into the aisle and up the stands. The woman I sit next to was pushed into the seats more than once, as others refused to move or blocked the stairway. Several of us leaving asked people to move to one side so we could clear the area for them, and faced eye-rolls, stares, “I can’t hear you” faces, and comments.
And then there was one white, middle-aged dad who told the woman in front of me that maybe she should lose some weight before she came to another game. Insinuating that she had no place in these stands with him and his daughter, watching these players, much less on that stairwell trying to leave so his kid could have a better chance at meeting whichever player she was there to support.
You know those moments when you wonder what you would do if a situation happened right in front of you?
I’m not ashamed to admit that I told him he was an asshole. He was an asshole.
He probably continued walking down those stairs thinking the same thing about me, that I was an asshole and that I, too, was too fat to be there. Because his comment could have just as easily have been directed at me.
So why am I writing this?
Two reasons, at the least.
First, to the stadium managers at Toyota Park. Obviously you knew that there was going to be a big crowd hoping for autographs post-match because you made an announcement.
Anytime the two most popular players in the NWSL and on the USWNT are in one location, there’s going to be a rush of fans. Next time, please consider sending staff members to those points around the barrier to the field that you can predict will end up bottle-necked and full of people trying to squirm their way closer. A few identifiable members of staff can help keep exit lanes clear of people, direct traffic, and make sure that fans can both head toward the field and head toward the exit with ease. I don’t think I should need to point out that too many people in too small a space can be dangerous, but maybe I do? Anyway, as a fan, I would certainly appreciate it. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the players confronted with what looks like mayhem might appreciate it as well.
Second, to the man who believes fat people have no place in the stands. I want to say “fuck you,” but I won’t. Nor will I apologize for calling you an asshole, though, because bigger people always end up having to be the bigger person, having to apologize for our desire to inhabit the same spaces as everyone else, and I have spent too long fighting with myself over my right to exist anywhere I damn well please. Instead, I’ll say this. You didn’t need to say what you said. Trust me, overweight people are always aware that the world doesn’t fit them. I’m sorry you live in the kind of world where you think it’s okay to say that to another person, though. And I hope your kid got the autograph or selfie or chance to talk with her favorite player.
And lastly–to the woman who sits next to me at these games. I hope I see you next year. I’d like to talk to you some more about the sport we both love.