Once upon a time, authors were told that there were certain types of heroes, certain characters, who were off-limits when it came to romance novels. Among those were football players, because it was widely accepted that women, who are the chief readers of romance, didn’t like sports and wouldn’t be interested in a story featuring a sports figure.
Times have changed.
Sports romances—whether we’re talking football, hockey, baseball, swimming or any other popular athletic activity—are no longer taboo. Some of the most popular books flying off the shelves today boast an athlete in the starring role, and it’s not just the male leads who’re the game changers. Often the heroine rocks cleats when she’s not in stilettos.
So what’s different?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure. As an author, I don’t write to trends, and I’ve never paid attention to people who told me I couldn’t write about <insert character type here>. It’s part of the beauty of being indie or hybrid. And as a woman, I’ve always been a football fan. No one informed me that women weren’t supposed to like football or baseball or hockey, and my dad raised me to appreciate sports.
For me, writing a story that features a tight end as the male lead didn’t feel much different than writing one that included a carpenter, or a chef, or a college professor. The job contributes to the character, but it doesn’t necessarily define the romance. A sports figure might be more likely to struggle with injuries and a life in the public eye, but that’s merely another aspect of the plot. It doesn’t have to be integral to the storyline.
On the other hand, the game is rife with romantic opportunities. Take your typical football player: he’s in his twenties, with a seriously-built body and the know-how to use it. And then remember that women are not only fans now; they’re also working in the front offices and in sports broadcasting. The typical female lead in a football romance isn’t a cheerleader or a bimbo. She’s a strong woman with a career of her own that may or may not intersect with the game.
The truth is that football, whether it’s high school, college or pro, is attracting women fans at an incredible rate. At some point in the last decade or so, we began to realize that it’s cool to admit we enjoy the game, instead of pretending that we’re only interested in the tight pants and broad shoulders, and now women fans make up nearly 50% of the NFL’s fanbase, according to numbers released in 2014 (Washington Post). The league caters to its female fans, with marketing and merchandising aimed at women more often than ever.
It stand to reason, then, that if we’re passionate about the game and the players, their stories are what we want to read. When I’m watching the game, I’m interested not only in what’s happening on the field, but also what’s going through the minds of the players, their wives and their girlfriends. I want to eavesdrop on what the coaches and staff are talking about on the sidelines. I want to know what the players do after a big win?or a devastating loss.
When I read sports romances by Kristen Callihan, Sarina White Bowen, Elle Kennedy or Jami Davenport, that’s what I’m getting: a little peek behind the scenes. When I write books like my own football trilogy, it’s what I’m giving my readers. It’s also why I’m hooked on the Amazon Prime series All or Nothing, a season-long documentary about the Arizona Cardinals’ 2015 season. It’s the drama, the humor and the heartache—not coincidentally, all essential elements of a good romance.
Female fans, I might venture to say, are more well-rounded in their appreciation of the game. We get the rules on the field, don’t worry–but we also know who’s married to the quarterback. We’re going to scream and shout just as loud as the next guy—but we also might tear up when the receiver who just caught a TD pass blows a kiss to his girlfriend in the stands.
Come to think of it, that peculiar juxtaposition of teamwork and true love just might be why so many of us have fallen for football romances.
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