Gender gap is tackled with book, seminars 'Armchair Guide' helps women get acquainted with game of football

January 25, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

While growing up in San Jose, Calif., Betsy Berns never felt like a football widow. Her three older brothers played the sport, her entire family followed it closely, and the first pro team she rooted for was the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers of the early 1980s.

Berns has remained a passionate 49ers fan and has never stopped loving the game. But she realizes how different the scenario is in most households on Sundays each fall. The typical husband or boyfriend gets engrossed in the televised action, relegating his mate to second-cousin status.

For all of those women who are curious about the fuss, but lack the knowledge to get it on the fun, Berns has penned a solution, "The Women's Armchair Guide to Pro Football."

The book, which is in its second edition and has sold nearly 20,000 copies since it was published in September 1996, is not targeted to persuade women to appreciate football. Berns wrote it to help frustrated women get acquainted with a game they never played or learned.

"There was no football widow syndrome in my house growing up. I used to watch the game all the time," Berns said from her New York office. "In one study I did, I found there was nothing in particular that women hated about football. They just didn't know enough about it."

Berns played tennis, soccer and water polo in high school, and went on to play water polo while earning a bachelor's degree in international relations at Claremont McKenna College. Her older brothers used to test her all of the time about the rules of football.

"The Armchair Guide" concentrates on the basics. Berns explains the concepts of offense, defense and special teams, discusses rules, penalties and scoring options, and sprinkles the 119 pages with "helpful hints" (as with a field goal, the kicking team can fake a punt and try for a first down) and "fun facts" (over 19 million people attended NFL games during the 1995-96 season -- an all-time record, with average paid attendance per game exceeding 60,000).

Berns also includes some league history, noting memorable moments such as Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 13-7 playoff win over the Oakland Raiders in 1972. She also includes brief sketches of each of the league's 30 teams.

In her effort to develop women's interest in football, Berns has tried other avenues. She is the president of Bvision Sportsmedia, a sports marketing company committed to educating women on sports topics. She is the founder and president of the Women's Institute for Football Education (WIFE). And Berns also works as an NFL consultant teaching women about the game.

She has organized one-night seminars for hundreds of women in Dallas, Cincinnati, New England, Minnesota and Jacksonville, Fla. She said the league plans to expand the sessions to all of its teams.

"We get all kinds of women. High school girls and 70-year-olds, mothers who have kids who play football and want to know more about it," she said. "Some of them just want to have fun on Sundays watching the game with their husbands. In Dallas, we had to cut off the class after 800 women signed up."

After covering the basics in the first hour of the seminar -- offense, defense, special teams and scoring -- the group is sometimes joined by an NFL player who discusses formations and strategy, or talks about what it's like to be a player on Sunday and throughout the work week.

Students even don shoulder pads and a helmet to get a feel for the game.

"The NFL found that over 50 million women watched the Super Bowl last year, and that 43 percent of its fan base is women," Berns said. "The market is definitely there."

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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