Sports romances are a sure bet for romance readers, and it's easy to see why. Sports players are part of our collective fantasies, both in and out of fiction, so they work well as romance heroes. Romance's alpha male—and of all its iterations—are similar to a sports hero; their personalities are usually larger than life, and they tend to be a bit rough around the edges. Also, these books usually have a lot of interaction between teammates, which means hilarious situations and tons of bromance.
When I think of sports romances, the first name that comes to mind is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Her Chicago Star series is a must-read for every fan of the genre. But her first sports novel, or the first one featuring a sport player hero, wasn’t about football or hokey, but about golf. Personally, I think it takes a lot to make golf look something other than boring, let alone sexy, but Fancy Pants did just that.
Rachel Gibson and Deirdre Martin made hockey the sport of choice in romance. The Seattle Chinooks and the New York Blades are some of the most familiar fictional teams, at least in our genre. Jill Shalvis is known for her small-town stories, but Double Play and Slow Heat, her baseball books, will always have a special place in my romance-loving heart, and I highly recommend them.
These books, as is the case with many sports romances, feature great love stories, and are all about having fun and enjoying the ride.
But not every sports romance is about fun and, well, games. Sometimes, these stories allow us to explore the often negative consequences of fame, which in turn gives an interesting spin to common tropes. Molly O’Keefe’s Can’t Buy Me Love deals with the serious consequences of sport injuries, and how the very real possibility of the premature ending of a career affects the hero, and everyone else around him. What happens when a man can no longer do the job he’s devoted his entire life to? In her upcoming release, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, we get to see how having all-consuming careers and being subjected to fame at a young age, can affect their personal lives and even destroy marriages and relationships. It’s also a great example of how public perception and expectations can shape or destroy careers just as fast as talent, or the lack of it, does.
Personally, I would love to see a more in-depth exploration of the lives and tribulations of these characters, and perhaps a less glamorous, yet more authentic, portrayal of the sport world. There’s nothing wrong with light stories, but there’s a lot of room for variety.
The lack of diversity becomes obvious when we think about women. The sports player hero has a huge appeal, but women sports players face a different set of issues when they decide to dedicate their lives to a sport. Thinking about a romance in which the heroine is a professional sports player opens a wide variety of possibilities, stories and conflicts that I haven’t seen before. So I ask: where are the sports player heroines?
In Juliana Stone’s Offside, the heroine is an excellent hockey player, but when she joins her town’s league, things become complicated, to say the least. Reilly, the heroine of Stephanie Doyle’s Got Game? is one of the country’s best golf player, and she’s surrounded by supporting, and not as supporting people. But as interesting as these books are, there’s a lack of sports romances revolving around the women in the business. There is a lot of potential, and even the possibility to bend some genre conventions, but the lack of diversity makes me wonder if perhaps the real appeal of the sports romance lies within the sport player hero.
One thing is for sure, though, the sports romance is here to stay, at least for the time being (or until Jed Hill retires*). Its appeal does nothing but grow with every new release, and it’s a world full of possibilities yet to be explored. But I think it’s time to ask for more, not just different stories, but also different characters, and more women. I’m certain that these are needed additions that will improve and refresh the stories we love.
How about you? Would you like to see more sport Romances featuring sport player heroines? Have you read any? What’s your favorite sport Romance?
*Jed Hill is the cover model for those Jaci Burton books.