The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
I remember being eight years old and absolutely idolizing Disney movies. Not to be dramatic, but I watched them like they were a religion. The funny thing is at that age, the overall messages of movies and shows don’t sink in on a surface level; you pick up certain habits and beliefs without realizing what it is you’re being told. A common trend with all these movies was that the girl was in love with an athlete. Often it was the captain of the football team, leaving his toxic cheerleader girlfriend for the girl next door type. Over the ages this developed to be more inclusive… aka involve other sports that weren’t just football. The one thing that didn’t change was the athlete protagonist. The soft and misunderstood class clown who was also able to attend any university he wanted based on his sports abilities.
As time went on and we all got older the narrative changed… slightly. Don’t lie- almost all of us in middle school believed or knew somebody who believed at some point that they were going to date the quarterback, fall in love and live happily ever after. Then, once we were all at the age to date the quarterback, suddenly our hopes and dreams were shot down in the harsh reality that not everyone acts as Disney told us they would. In fact, while athletes were still idolized and sought after, the overall narrative painted upon them turned quite ugly. They were all cheaters or fame-driven or nothing but a dumb jock. That narrative never died down or disappeared for those who continued with athletics post-education. In fact, it widened to include anyone around them. Those who dated them were blind, riding off their tailcoats and in it for the fame. Those who still fantasized were crazy, unrealistic and looking for the easy ride through life. For the athletes? They never stopped having a reputation, bad or good, someone was always talking.
I think one of the biggest culture shocks I faced when I started dating an athlete was the amount of objectification that they and their relationships face. We had grown up where ‘dating the athlete’ became a cultural narrative and it stuck as one throughout our existence. No longer was it a relationship or were they a person, but instead something to be studied, looked at and talked about. We all fantasized about dating ‘the athlete’, without any actual context behind who the athlete was. I remember in university I faced that narrative change after a few bad encounters with athletes in high school and told myself that I was done dating them. Even to the point where when I met a really good guy (my current relationship), I refused to date him for upwards of 6 months just due to the lifestyle he had of being a hockey player. I allowed myself to be blinded by the overall stereotypes and bad reputations of those who played his sport. These narratives are painted by jealous people and broken hearts. I let this generalized narrative overrule the actual face-to-face perception I was having with this amazing person. Truthfully, I also don’t think I was ready to face the stereotypes that would be placed on my name as well and trust me, I’ve now heard them all. “Another blonde in the hockey world”, “riding his last name because he has pro-potential” or “stupid and naive for thinking she’s the only one”.
That’s when I think reality really hit me into what society today, myself included for the longest time, does to people in a position of being publicly viewed. They strip away their humanity and leave every little piece of them and their lives up for discussion as if it’s an object for debate. I found myself looking at famous couples and realizing that while I’ve judged them based on their looks together, I had never once viewed them as two people who are in love. Two people who jump through hoops, deal with personal struggles and are in a union making their lives balance with one another.
That’s the piece where I learned to respect and value individual struggles, no matter how it is painted. I am so fortunate that I allowed myself to open up to the potential of my now relationship. However, it did not (and does not) come without struggle and different hoops to jump through that I didn’t even realize were there until I was facing them. Dating an athlete came with the acceptance of being subjected to a narrative I no longer had control writing. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is the unique challenges that comes with dating an athlete. While I won’t sell it as a hardship or the most impossible thing in the world, I will paint it with the reality that is often overlooked. As most people involved in the public eye often must deal with and aren’t acknowledged for. The reality of dating an athlete is so much more than showing up on game day with his number on your back.
I remember prior to dating, and once we were dating, a lot of big conversations had to occur. There really was no room to have one foot in the door and the other straggling somewhere outside once we went public. There needed to be a solid basis of trust and communication. This was the only way to survive the very real reality that some people, as mentioned, will not view the relationship as a relationship; or you as anything more than a roadblock between them and their fantasy of being with an athlete. Others won’t view you at all. I must say my ego took a 180 when I started dating my partner, and slowly had to become humbled with the reality of being in the background a lot of the time. Even outside of the sports atmosphere and at my own school I am often known as “the girlfriend of” rather than by name. A lot of the time people are comfortable not knowing my name and just referring to me as someone’s girlfriend. Even certain acquaintances and friends will often, in a non-intentional way, ask me questions about my partner and their sport before asking me about myself or even my partner in relation to me and our relationship. Personal accomplishments and victories can feel small when you’re constantly watching your partner’s athletic accomplishments be plastered all over the internet and social media. Luckily for me, I was able to acknowledge the lesson within it and where there was growth within myself to become happy with self-gratification and step aside a lot of the time. However, it can still be a struggle, and admitting that is not without one either.
While I could go on about further challenges, interpersonal details and struggles in my relationship, the idea here isn’t to hold pity or seek for a pat on the back, but rather identify this clear objectified line of where society doesn’t allow people to be viewed as people anymore. Sometimes I struggle with the reality of my partner’s accomplishments being everywhere and mine being more private. Other times I’m reminded of the reality that my little victories and wins are shared and celebrated with those I want to know and those I hold close to my heart, Whereas athletes are forced upon this pedestal of public opinion and acceptance in order to keep doing the thing they love most.
I’ve learned a lot while dating a serious athlete. I’ve learned a lot about myself, a lot about my partner and more than anything, a lot about our society. Mostly in each case, I’ve learned a lot about respect. If I could look back and tell myself anything, I feel that the same lesson would reappear in a lot of different examples: Don’t judge a person at face value. The one thing those Disney movies did well was paint each athlete with a complex story behind their sport. The error was making each one have a god complex and the same stories behind each character. I am so happy I took a chance to see past this thick line of objectification that has been set as the ‘norm’. I hope that as time goes on that line is further blurred and if anything can be understood it’s that having compassion and an open mind will lead you to a better understanding than you had originally believed possible.