When an NFL analyst named Andrea Hangst, aka @FBALL_Andrea, tweeted at me around a year ago, I assumed she was not the same Andrea Hangst with whom I’d shared riot grrrl fandom and zines in high school. The teenager I’d exchanged long, handwritten letters with had never mentioned a love of sports. I started reading her writing online and found that it was the same Andrea, and she had written an amazing Tumblr post about inserting herself into the masculine-dominated world of sports writing—specifically writing for several publications and running a podcast about the NFL. I just had to interview her about her path to sportswriting.
Here’s what she had to say about writing, football, feminism, and dealing with impostor syndrome and nasty internet comments.
You were 13 or 14 when we started corresponding and exchanging zines. I was super impressed with your writing and your outspoken nature back then, and I know those qualities are serving you well in your current profession. How long have you been writing and was your goal always to write professionally? How did riot grrrl fit into it all for you?
Riot grrrl was so important for me. Reading the Seventeen piece featuring Jessica Hopper really made things click for me. By the time I was nine, 10 years old I was digging around my small-town Pennsylvania library for feminist works and it was all very ’70s and not applicable to me, even then. Riot grrrl made it possible for me to not only publish my own writing but to connect with girls and women all over the nation and world and not feel so alone.
As far as writing, I’m 33 years old and I’ve been writing since I was three. And since I was three, my goal was to make my living from writing. I had no clue, until just the past few years, that it would lead me to sports and football. But all of my passions have aligned in the right way at the right time. It’s not perfect, to be sure, but I’m no longer in a cubicle or answering phones or commuting and that’s what’s best for me.
What about your love of sports, football in particular, how did that come about?
It came about so randomly. I am from Western Pennsylvania, which is Pittsburgh Steelers country. I was brought home from the hospital, when I was born, in a Steelers hat that, by the miracle that is 1980s stretch acrylic knit, still fits. But I rejected so much of that as a teenager, because sports were something that I thought was diametrically opposed to everything I “stood for,” as a punk rock riot grrrl feminist.
The first college I attended was in Western Massachusetts, and at one point the Steelers were in the playoffs, facing the New England Patriots. I could hear my whole campus cheering for the Patriots and kind of felt that burn, that “how dare you!?” about something that had suddenly become “my” team. As the years unfolded, I became more and more attached to my hometown team and my love of the sport as a whole sprung from that. And once that happened, I needed to know everything. All teams, all coaches, all roster moves, contracts (oh, I love breaking down contracts and salary caps), the Xs and Os, of course. I was just hooked. I don’t particularly know why, but when it hit me, it hit me. I started needing football, which is extremely problematic but also enjoyable in the sense that dissecting the problematic parts is something I like to do.
I know exactly what you mean about feeling like sports were in conflict with your punk rock riot grrrl feminist persona. I grew up on baseball, and to a lesser degree basketball, but by the time I was a teenager, I’d shunned that part of me. We exchanged loooong letters, but I don’t think sports were a thing we talked about at all—unless maybe I was bitching about the jocks at my school. It took until my early 20s to let go of that feeling that I couldn’t like all of these things. What would you say to our readers who might be struggling with a similar feeling?
Oh, we most certainly didn’t talk sports! “Jocks” and all! I struggled so much, but once I started really getting into football I realized something: You don’t have to pigeonhole yourself. You like what you like? So what? If parts of that are problematic—and we all consume problematic media to some extent—and you’re aware of that, then you’re good to go, in my opinion. You get drawn to certain things for reasons both tangible and not. For me, there was a feeling of “home” to football. And, I mean, I grew up (and went through the whole riot grrrl movement) involved with professional wrestling, things like ECW [Extreme Championship Wrestling] which had it’s own problems. You can love something and still be critical of it. And that doesn’t make you a hypocrite. And you can be as punk rock as you want to be and love things like football, wrestling, baseball, basketball, MMA, whatever. You are who you are, you define that.
Let’s talk about college. You mentioned people being really into the playoffs at your school in Western Massachusetts, but I also know you attended Antioch College, which is a school I attended briefly, too. Back then, they proudly advertised not having a football team or really any sports other than, like, Ultimate Frisbee. This was a selling point for me because I was still “too punk for sports,” but how did that culture affect you? And how did your college education in general influence what you are doing now?
College taught me one thing: Classrooms are not for me, and I only really overachieved in high school because it was boring and easy and because I wanted to get out of my hometown. Once I could really put going to class (or not) in my own hands, I realized classrooms aren’t for me.
But at Antioch, when I was there, there was but one television on the whole campus with cable access—in the C-Shop—and I didn’t go there for football games. Football, sports and most of pop culture was lost on me at the time, which is part of the appeal of Antioch, or was, I think. But I made the best, most enduring friends of my life while there. Folks who are working hard on that whole “make a difference for humanity” stuff while still supporting my NFL writing career and not saying this is a misogynist world or I’m upholding terrible standards. They know that me in particular writing about football is a subversive act. I sure think it is, at least. Antioch, basically, teaches you that subverting the way things are is a goal and an asset, and I can directly see a link from that kind of mentality to me loving football, wanting to write about it and then going about doing so without fear.
That is a subversive act and I know you’ve written about that, as well as about domestic violence in the NFL. How do you handle the conflict that must arise with you when yet another story breaks about a player’s violence and how the NFL is (or is not) dealing with it? I know other women who have turned away from the sport because of it, but you aren’t just a fan, this is your work. What’s your approach been? And what would you like to see the NFL do to change things?
The NFL tries to be a moral entity, which it is not. It is a multi-million dollar business that is merely covering itself in the cloak of “protect the shield,” than actually caring about women, about any of this stuff. I don’t blame anyone for walking away from the sport because of things that players have done and the league’s reaction to it. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by just how bleak the whole enterprise is. Not just […] the way the league responds to players [involved in domestic violence cases], from discipline to “why” Greg Hardy has a job (“he’s a good player!”) but the documented link between concussions and repeated concussive blows (mostly suffered by the guys in the trenches, the offensive and defensive lines), and CTE [Chronic traumatic encephalopathy] and other long-term, later-in-life brain disorders, and how the NFL spent decades purposefully covering up what multiple concussions can do to a person. There’s much to be cynical about, jaded about, frustrated with and disappointed by.
I’m lucky though. Because this is my work, I have an opportunity to speak about about any and all of these things—whether in writing or on radio spots, or on my podcast—and actually get those words out there. I have an audience.
As far as changes the NFL can make, that’s a difficult question because the NFL really just reflects what is going on in society. There’s no way to believe that the NFL is going to make any strides that are pro-woman and distinctly anti-domestc and -sexual violence when we’re also not seeing that progress in everyday life. The NFL basically prints money and, unfortunately, that money will keep flowing no matter who gets arrested for what and how long he gets suspended for. If the money starts drying up in a significant way, that’s the only way the NFL is going to make any kind of significant changes to how it operates. That, or the team owners, the billionaires, demand change themselves which…well, good luck with that.
How did you start writing for Bleacher Report?
Luck and timing! In fall of 2010 I lost my job and though between then and starting at Bleacher Report, I had a few temp jobs, I mainly kept myself sane by starting my own NFL blog. It was basically my all-consuming hobby by the time I had lost my job so I figured that I should bide my time by combining my two biggest passions: football and writing.
This was in the early days of “NFL Twitter,” so it was much easier to interact with people, make connections and all that. That’s how I met Josh Zerkle, formerly of Uproxx/Kissing Suzy Kolber. In the summer of 2011 he approached me about an opportunity to write about the NFL full-time; he was brought on to Bleacher Report at a time that the site wanted to get more legitimate from a writing quality and sports knowledge standpoint.
At first, I was a little reluctant—at the time, Bleacher Report was not respected in the sports media community, at all. But then I realized, This site is trying to earn respect, and they think I can be part of making that happen. So, I came aboard in mid-August 2011, right after the NFL lockout. Since then, I have written for Pro Football Focus, Sportsnaut, and the Sports Daily, and I’m also writing for Sports on Earth, and Scout.
In a typical week, right now I write 15-18 columns of varying length, sometimes 500-700 words, sometimes 2,000-plus, depending on subject matter and the outlet.
What is your daily or weekly routine?
It can vary from day to day, and how many places I write for. For so long, it was just Bleacher Report, five to six days a week and one or two fantasy football columns per week for Pro Football Focus. When I started at Bleacher Report, I covered all 32 teams and could write maybe 10 or 14 short to mid-length pieces, which would take place over a typical, 9-to-5 kind of workday. In the regular season, now that I cover specific teams at Bleacher Report, I do post-game columns, so that’s either Sunday afternoon or night, or Monday night or Thursday night, depending on when the Browns and Steelers play.
A typical weekday for me at this point is to wake up in the morning, catch up on the latest news in the NFL, do a bit of research. Write one thing, write another for a different site, write another for Bleacher Report, write for another site on days when I have four immediate deadlines. I try to make sure [I have] Saturdays completely off. Some people can do this seven days a week, but writing about football isn’t just about football for me—it’s writing, and to me it’s creative, psychic and emotional labor because it’s my passion. If I don’t have one day to step away per week I’d easily burn out.
So it sounds like this is a full-time job for you. Or are you doing other work on top of all of that to supplement it?
Full time! From day one! Yep, this is how I earn 100 percent of my living, and I know that I’m super, super lucky to have that be the case basically from jump street. I know how uncommon that is in this industry, and I like to think it’s a sign that I know what I’m doing. I have major “imposter syndrome” feelings all the time, like many women experience.
Oh yeah, I know those imposter syndrome feelings. Any advice for dealing with them?
The only way I have found success in dealing with these feelings is basically making a mental list, almost like affirmations. Like, “All these places wouldn’t have sought out my abilities, wanted to pay me to do this, if I wasn’t any good at it.” But it’s kind of amazing how insidious imposter syndrome can be. I was reading up on it after answering some of these questions and noticed that saying things like “luck and timing!” are often excuses or justifications we make when dealing with imposter syndrome and how to explain away our successes. It’s odd.
When I really get into an imposter syndrome spiral, it causes active feelings of anxiety. All I can do is try to calm myself down, remind myself I have earned and deserved the chance to do this work and that I am “good enough.” It’s amazing, though, how we as women actively minimize our accomplishments, that the more accomplished we are the more we feel like we didn’t earn or deserve our successes. I wish I could more adequately explain this; heck, I wish I knew the exact root causes of why I feel this way. But all I can do is just try to build myself up against these feelings.