We’re back with Part III of The Women of TGS! Today’s perspective comes from The Tailgate Society’s resident music expert Sylvia June.
“It’s like their victories are our victories, too, even though they really aren’t.”
What teams/sports do you follow?
I’m not a huge sports fan – I joined TGS to write about things like music and Facebook cat groups. But I grew up being a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan (I realize they are the Las Vegas Raiders now, I’m still in the process of moving my allegiance so soon after their return to Oakland). I’m only slightly interested in collegiate sports, but I will always be a fan of the Iowa State cardinal & gold. While attending ISU, I went to as many women’s gymnastics meets at home as I could. I’ve always followed Olympic sports closely, especially gymnastics and ice skating. I love going to baseball games for the hot dogs and beer, and hockey games, also for the beer. The games are a nice addition.
Most recently I’ve started watching NASCAR recreationally with my dad. On our last family vacation in December 2019, we visited the Las Vegas Speedway, where my parents and I hurtled alarmingly around the track at 90 mph in a tour bus that was not really designed to do that. It really supercharged my interest in the whole thing.
How did you become a fan?
Everyone I’ve ever met has been surprised that I’m a Raiders fan. Maybe that’s because I’m the whitest, Midwesternest, non-sporty person? I don’t know. But my dad has been a dedicated Raiders fan nearly his entire life, so of course that had to be my favorite football team, too. The story of how my dad became a Raiders fan is more interesting. The short version — his dad (my grandpa) was a Bears fan, so he made sure to pick a team his dad really hated.
I’ve also watched the Olympics ever since I was little. I love the pomp and circumstance of it, and the feeling that it brought all of us closer for those weeks watching the best of the best athletes around the world compete. It’s like their victories are our victories, too, even though they really aren’t. I watch gymnastics and ice skating religiously, because they’re the most exciting, but I do go in for some swimming, track, and all the snow stuff.
What is your favorite sports moment?
I apologize in advance for it not being an actual “sports moment,” but it was the infamous 1991 scandal when Nancy Kerrigan got kneecapped by a guy hired by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband. This was just months before the 1994 Winter Olympics, and I remember almost every single detail about it. In my head, I can still see Nancy wailing “Whyyyyyyy?” on national television over and over again. I ended up liking nobody involved, but the drama and rivalry story was intense. It is still fascinating, to this day. If you haven’t watched I, Tonya with Margo Robbie, do it. It’s pretty forgiving toward Tonya, but it’s a great movie.
Maybe it’s horrifying that my favorite sports moment was when someone got hurt (maybe it’s also a reason I’m a Raiders fan?). I’ll think on that. At least Nancy had a good comeback story.
What is your least favorite sports moment?
When I was little, I absolutely idolized Mary Lou Retton because she was the first American woman I ever watched win an Olympic gold medal. It was a bitter pill for me to swallow finding out that, while serving on the USA Gymnastics board, she probably knew something about all the young gymnasts who had been abused by US Olympics team doctor Larry Nassar, even though she has said she did not. Not only that, she actually lobbied AGAINST the Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 following the scandal being made public. The whole Nassar thing made me want to stomp faces. Probably one of my least favorite life moments, knowing that terrible things like “special treatments” were happening in a sport I cherished for years and nobody seemed to care.
How have sports impacted you and your life?
Sports have been a way my dad and I could bond. I’m an only child, and I know my dad hoped for a son. He got the next best thing, though – a hugely independent, mouthy daughter 😊. It has been a blessing to get to share a passion for something with him. I’ve included a photo of us outside the “official bar” of the Defenders of the Silver & Black in San Antonio just last year, where we got to hang out with dozens of local Raiders fans while watching a game. The Raiders sadly lost (which I chalk up to the superstition/fact that every time I watch a game involving my favorite teams, they lose). But getting to be there with my dad and seeing how happy he was to be surrounded by people who love his team as much as he does was priceless.
I don’t really “play sports” unless you count my interest in kayaking anywhere and everywhere. I’m more of a choir/drama geek. My only stint at team sports was a brief season playing church league basketball in third grade and complaining the whole time about it.
Is there a particular athlete who inspires you? Why?
I have loved watching Simone Biles revolutionize the floor routine and revitalize interest in the sport itself. She really is the greatest gymnast of our time, not only because she is the most decorated American with 30 gold medals but also because she is just a great person. She is fierce, dynamic and a shitload of fun to watch. She’s been outspokenly supportive of her teammates on and off the mat. Simone has given courage to countless survivors of sexual assault, sharing her story of abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, and she’s done a lot to normalize taking care of your mental health as a result of trauma.
What is your hottest sports take?
Being a Raiders fan and also decidedly not a fan of domestic violence sometimes requires cognitive dissonance. On one hand, team owner Mark Davis says he has a “zero-tolerance policy” for domestic violence. In fact, several players have been let go or not signed due to allegations. But as far as I know, Trent Brown is still playing for them. And there’s a coach on staff that has faced similar allegations.
I get that the Raiders have earned their reputation as the toughest and meanest of them all for many, many reasons, including brutal fights involving fans. It’s kind of a schtick that keeps their cache alive. But they, and the entire NFL in general, need to keep those accused of domestic violence off the field.
If you could say one thing and know the entire sports world would listen, what would it be?
Demand excellence from your players on and off the field. If they want to make millions or even thousands of dollars playing whatever sport and be idolized by kids everywhere, they can be decent human beings, too. And, for God’s sake, take complaints of abuse seriously from the beginning.
Sylvia June lives in a cute little house in Northwest Iowa, two blocks from her parents. She graduated a “long ass time ago” from Iowa State (where she first met the notorious Ted Flint over a game of flip cup). Sylvia is old enough to be your mom. She is currently mother to two fur babies and fostering two boys, who are 11 and 14. Other totally random facts about her: She likes goats and is turned on when people make literary references in everyday conversation.