Some abstain because they believe that it is morally wrong. A player's low opinion of a girl once thought to be a groupie may change as he develops a relationship with her. As he gets to know her and appreciates her for more than sex, he often no longer thinks of her as a groupie. One rookie player talked about a girl who had befriended him at the beginning of the season and whose apartment hewas about to move into temporarily for the last 2 weeks of the season: "She has been real nice, I really don't think of her as a groupie because she really doesn't stand out. She doesn't go to bed with everybody . . . A lot of people might think of her as a groupie just because she is from Jamestown and hangs around us, but I really don't picture her that way because she really is not in it for the glamour; she just likes to be here because we get along and she likes to hang around together."
Once a woman is identified as a groupie, however, it can be difficult for her to shed her label with other members of the team. While spending a week traveling with a team in the New York-Penn League, one of the authors heard gossip about a teammate who became engaged to a groupie. After being dumped by his girlfriend at home, the player began dating a groupie who previously had slept with other players on the team. After dating for a month, the player proposed marriage and gave the girl the ring that he had intended for his girlfriend at home. Although the player was well liked by his teammates, there was much gossip about the girl having slept around and having had an abortion. Even though she was going off to college in the fall, her identity as a former groupie made her, in the eyes of the team, an undesirable bride. It was agreed that had she not slept with other players, the engagement would have been viewed more favorably.
Other groupies are treated solely as "sex objects," sometimes even being shared among teammates. This is especially true of girls the players meet on road trips--girls they are unlikely to ever see again. Tom House, in The Jock's Itch, described the attitudes of some of his major league teammates toward groupies in the 1970s and 1980s: "There's a time-honored ritual that says if you have a roommate and you bring a girl back to your room, you either share or you let him watch.... Sometimes a 'show' is set up ahead of time. A player knows he will be bringing someone to his room and the closet will be full of four or five guys peeking through the slats or around corners while the player and his unsuspecting friend do whatever. And there's no question that the sexual thrill derived from this is nothing compared to the exhilaration of being able to say that they pulled it off." (House, 1989, pp. 39-40).
Pronger (1990, p. 179) suggested that the sexual thrill is actually homoerotic, that women are only peripheral to the relationships between the athletes themselves. Messner (1992) argued that "the erotic bond between men is neutralized through overt homophobia and through the displacement of the erotic toward women as objects of sexual talk and practice" (p. 96).
It would be a mistake to refer to the player-groupie relationship as always being sexual. As we have seen, both sides may derive other benefits from the relationship. In the all-male world of professional baseball and in living away from home, away from the coed environment of the high school or college campus, groupies often are the only female companionship available to players. This is especially so in the low minors, where most players are single. Some groupies provide other valued services as well; they help the players clean their apartments, iron shirts, run errands, and, in the low minors where most players do not have cars and cannot easily get around town, provide transportation.
In this article, we have looked at who groupies are, their motives for pursuing relationships with players, the strategies they use to attract attention and meet players, and how they are regarded by players. It should be evident from our findings that groupies are a much more varied lot than the popular conception suggests.
Although the groupie phenomenon in professional baseball has not received any critical attention from social scientists, there has been some analysis of groupies in rock music (see, e.g., Nolan, 1965; Wolfe, 1965). When the term groupie is used in reference to women rock fans, it usually has sexual connotations and carries a pejorative meaning (Cline, 1992).(n6) In the rock music business, the word groupie often is applied not only to fans but also to women who work in the business. As Garratt (1984) noted, "If a woman wishes to be involved in any way [in the music business], it is often assumed that she is only there, ultimately, because she is attracted to the men" (p. 149). This extension of the groupie label to all women, in its sense of women who are regarded as "totally disposable" sexual partners to rock stars (Cline, 1992, p. 82), denigrates the legitimate interest of many women as fans and otherwise. Even women rock songwriters are assumed to be sleeping with band members. According to one woman writer, "It's another way that guys will use to trivialize your work. They will use any excuse to say you're only in it because you're a groupie" (Garrett, 1984, p. 141).
The use of the term groupie in the baseball world is similar to that in the rock music world. Karen Williams, who had a degree in sports administration when she took a job as the director of promotions for the Houston Astros, reported that the team's general manager still asked her whether she was in baseball to get a husband (Bryan, 1989, p. 107). Likewise, Susan Fornoff, a sportswriter who covered the Oakland A's for the Sacramento Bee, described in her memoirs the problems she had in interviewing players and countering their stereotypes that she was in sports journalism only to meet men (Fornoff, 1993). Women with very different relationships to the baseball world--ball club employees, writers, women friends, baseball fans--are prone to being regarded as groupies until they prove otherwise.
Women who enter the clubhouse as sportswriters may be threatening to professional athletes because they challenge the male bonding rituals of the locker room, have real power as journalists outside of their relationships to men, and are objective observers rather than groupies (Nelson, 1994, p. 230). Lisa Olsen, a reporter for the Boston Globe, was harassed by New England Patriots football players and eventually was hounded from sportswriting in the United States by angry players, fans, and team management (Nelson, 1994, p. 244). The harassment started when football players thought she was a "looker," a woman who stared at their genitals in the locker room. Nelson (1994, p. 245) commented that men usually look at women and feel feminized (or violated) by the thought that women look at them. In descriptions of how young women meet ballplayers, it is the women who catch the players' eyes and make themselves available to be looked at.
The very existence of the label groupie makes clear how restricted the place of women is in baseball, as in the rock music scene, and it underscores the privileged status of men and the low status of women in this arena. Gorn (1986) described a similar relationship between male sport culture and the exploitation of women in the Victorian-era boxing subculture. The pugilists and their male fans were able to escape the demands of women at sports events, men's clubs, and bars while acting out their "maleness in the company of men" (p. 143). Pronger (1990) described sport as "an initiation into manhood, a forum in which they [men] realize their place in the orthodoxy of gender culture" (p. 19). The use of the term groupie and its extension to all women interested in baseball perhaps also reflects the way in which American culture continues to stigmatize women who initiate intimate contact with unrelated men. Ironically, the existence of groupies enhances the desirability of the men they pursue, reinforcing the value our culture places on wealth and fame for men. Baseball plays out on a small stage the larger gender roles in American society, with desirability being defined largely by money and fame for men and by attractiveness for women. The contrast between the minor leagues and big leagues demonstrates this. In the minor leagues, women often bring as much to the relationship (e.g., companionship, a car) as do the players. In these more balanced or reciprocal relationships, women are much less likely to be dismissed as mere groupie, In the big leagues, by contrast, players who have money and some fame have less need for the services that groupies provided them in the minor leagues, and the relationships between players and groupies become completely asymmetrical. Hence, the groupies' motives are viewed with suspicion, the women seldom develop friendships with the players they pick up, and the players' attitudes and actions are more clearly sexual and narrowly defined.
What is fandom?