June is Pride month. It’s considered by most in the LGBTQ community to be an encouraging time to “come out” to friends and family and announce, “this is who I am.” This isn’t one of those coming out stories (which is why we waited until July) but it’s still a story of recognizing who one is, embracing what you love, and sharing it with the hope of inspiring others.
I launched The Fanspired in November 2018. It combined my love of sports and pop culture into a one-stop shop for fans of both genres. However, the journey to the grand opening took some self-reflection, some self-acceptance, and some faith that it was all gonna be okay.
To know where The Fanspired came from, you have to know a little about me. My name is Sara. I grew up loving sports. My dad coached football at one of the premiere high schools in Cincinnati and I’m pretty sure I learned how to throw a ball before I learned to walk. I played baseball, basketball, was the kickball captain on the playground in elementary school, and even walked-on the volleyball team at the small college I attended. I was an athlete and damn proud of it. My family lived on the Kentucky side of Cincinnati (if you’re from there you understand) so I was – am - a huge Reds fan, Bengals fan and of course, I Bleed Blue come basketball season. I interned for the Reds after graduation and was on the path to my dream job when the economy crashed and every pro team went on a hiring freeze.
So I went back to school to pursue a Master’s and eventually a Ph.D. I studied Communication with an emphasis in Sport Communication, particularly sport’s role in societal conversations about identity – political, race, gender, sexuality. Five years in, I was working on my dissertation when my student loans caught up to me. The University budget cut my scholarship and my teaching gig, so with no job and an interest payment in the amount my monthly rent had been, I went looking for a roommate I could stay with for free.
I packed up my cat, Kloe, and at the age of 29, moved into a retirement center in Florida. Yes, golf carts are driven on the roads here. No, I do not go to the community pool (speedos). I spent a year working two part-time jobs, barely getting to write on my dissertation. The next year, tuition was due and I didn’t have the money. I was working to pay to write but not getting to write because I was working. So I dropped out of school a dissertation short of my Ph.D. and went to work full-time at my favorite clothing store.
Oh, let me tell you, retail is a bitch. Malls are happy places full of happy clothes and its fun times wandering around with your friends. And then you work there. And then you might as well move in there because retail store managers never leave! Eventually, I wanted to be able to watch a football game on Saturday or Sunday without having to DVR it and avoid my phone and the internet until I could watch the first half of the game at midnight and the second half the next night.
I left the mall and waited to see what would happen, believing something would fall my way, like divine intervention or something, even though I had no idea what that something might be. Turns out, it was Black Panther.
Here’s where the true part of my coming out story and the Fanspired begins. In the time I’d been unemployed, I had done two things.
First, I saw Black Panther in the theater with some friends. First Marvel movie I’d seen since Thor: The Dark World came out in 2013. I was sooooo over the Marvel films. Ugh, another Captain America movie… Ant-Man? Seriously?
But Black Panther was different. Or maybe I was different than I was in 2013. The messages in Black Panther… that wasn’t just another superhero movie trying to sell tickets. Black Panther was playing the same role in the conversation about race, immigration, community, love, gender, that I had been studying in sports. There was no way you could watch Black Panther and go, “Seriously?” afterwards.
The second thing I did was realize I was going to have to be my chance. I was struggling in the job market because I was too qualified for entry-level positions but didn’t have enough experience for higher-level positions. I knew I was done waiting for someone else to give me an opportunity that might not come.
I began a business plan for a web-design company where I could help the small businesses in this area increase their web presence. I came up with a name and completed several portions of the plan but something about it just didn’t feel right. Like when the milk in the fridge has passed the expiration date but it still smells okay. You could drink it and find out and it’ll probably be fine but there’s that queasy, uneasy feeling you have the entire time you’re trying to decide. That’s what I felt.
So I was procrastinating my business plan and shopping online for a friend’s birthday present when I came across a Black Panther Funko Pop. I’d seen Pops in the mall but hadn’t ever bought one. They look weird with their big heads and little bodies and really, I don’t collect those kinds of things. I mean, I have bobbleheads with big heads and little bodies but they’re sports bobbleheads. Some of them are even signed. Those are okay. But Pops? Nah. I’m not that person.
But this Black Panther pop… it glows in the dark?!
And that’s when it hit me. I was a closet geek. For every great sport memory I have that I would proudly share with a stranger, I have a geek story I would not.
My immediate memories of my childhood are of playing sports. But my mom and her best friend, whose son I grew up with, would wait at Toys “R” Us to make sure we had the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle the moment it came out. And yeah, I played wiffle ball in my best friend’s back yard but we also spent hours pretending we were Power Rangers. I was the Red Ranger. She was Kimberly. In high school, after basketball practice, my best friend and I would go back to her house, sit in her bedroom, and read the newest Harry Potter book (after re-reading all the books before that one, of course). I’ve subscribed to Entertainment Weekly since 2004.
But I don’t tell people that.
I’ve owned a video game system since the original Nintendo came out but when anyone asked, I made it clear, I play but I am not a gamer. I played Tecmo Super Bowl and Madden and Bases Loaded and The Show. Those are different. I did venture out and play Shadow of Mordor when it came out for Xbox 360 but I only told one friend that I was playing and I only bought it because it was on sale on Black Friday, right? (and then finished with 99% completed, damn Ghul Matron I couldn’t find).
I never realized I was a closet pop culture junkie until that moment in my bedroom. I mean, I dressed as Jon Snow for Halloween the year before after reading all the books, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know about my obsession with Game of Thrones. I have pictures. But I never posted them.
I looked around my room, at all the sports figures and signed balls, the entire section of my closet dedicated to team t-shirts and jerseys and the Bengals cup on my nightstand. I clicked buy on the glow in the dark Black Panther pop and knew that was my divine intervention.
My dad had passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s a few months before and I still had some of my inheritance left after paying off the rest of my government-owned student loans.
I went shopping. The Fanspired was born.
I wanted to build a space where people can be a fan of pop culture and geek-out and also root on their favorite team. You don’t have to pick one or the other. Wear a Bengals jersey and a Batman cape. Wave a wand and swing a bat. Embrace the Dark Side and root for the Patriots (that’s a joke New England fans, I’m just jealous). Point is, you don’t have to hide your passions here or go to multiple places for each love.
There is an element inherent in sports that requires one group of people to beat another group, to be better than that other group. I realized that’s how I had approached my feelings with pop culture. They’d always been there. I just had always made my sports feelings “better” than my geek love. Now, I embrace them both, equally. I have become a true bi-fan.
The Fanspired is split into a Pop Culture and Sport shop so if you only like one, that’s okay too. Because regardless, there is something all of us have in common. We are all inspired as fans. Imagining I was the Red Ranger inspired just as much leadership and strength into a ten-year-old girl as being the first picked in kickball at recess. Walking into MetLife Stadium in New York with orange and black stripes on my face for a Monday Night Football game took the same amount of courage and passion as it did for a girl to dress up as Jon Snow.
The Fanspired doesn’t put pop culture fans in a corner or sports fans on their own. My hope with The Fanspired is to connect each of us to the passions and loves we all share and to Inspire the Fan in You.
Inspire the Fan in All of Us.