hen I first heard that the professional football players of America had linked biceps and begun singing "Solidarity Forever," my heart leapt for joy. A strike! A veritable blow for freedom for Sunday afternoons and Monday nights! I decided, however, that it would be wise to keep my rapture in check. So I didn't open my mouth, even to gag, when Cowboys' receiver Butch Johnson called the football players' strike a "tragedy," a word that might, after all, be reserved for more world-shattering events.

When it became obvious that we were preparing to plunge into a national mourning period over the strike, I went so far as to manage a modest cluck or two. Ah yes, I said politely, the whole thing is just terrible. Later, as national columnists began to worry about what we would do, as a nation, without this great psychic release, I managed to nod my head sagely. I absorbed more than one heavy discussion about "the safety valve of vicarious violence," the tranquilizing effect of TV football, the romance and drama of football in our humdrum lives.

But when the good, gray New York Times delivered a foursquare editorial position last Thursday -- "Our sympathies are with the fans" -- it was simply too much to bear. How dare they take sides like that? I mean, it must be noted that the most partisan feelings triggered by this event are not between those who favor the players and those who favor the owners. It's between the fans of the game and the fans of the strike.

These two sides are neatly divided into easily recognized segments of the population: men and women. Now I know that I will immediately be deluged with letters from women who adore football and men who abhor it, but if there is a generalization that is generally true, it's this one: men do and women don't like watching football.

The hostility of the field is nothing compared to the hostility of the living room. Most of the women I know regard football as video cigar smoke. It dominates the entire atmosphere. My local chapter of "Fans of the Strike" tends to regard football as a male rite left over from the early Paleolithic period when men first learned to grunt and hunt together.

I am sure that there are all sorts of PhD theses around and about to explain precisely why men find football interesting and women find that bewildering. Some men, I know, are genuinely convinced that if women only understood football, they would love it. These are the same men who insist that they are only interested in the finesse, the style, the virtuosity of the game. They will go on to compare "Hog" Hannah to Mikhail Baryshnikov.

But my entire chapter of "Fans of the Strike" agrees unanimously that when men turn football on, they are turning women off. At least one member has field- tested this idea by starting a relatively interesting conversation between commercials. To wit, "I am leaving you." His response? "Just a second, honey, I want to see the replay."

I know that the strike can have a down side. There are women who will discover that the men in their lives will even watch Super Bowl reruns, or Canadian pro ball. To them, my condolences. As the local chapter president, I have decided to initiate a strike fund to help our ball players out. After all, in these circumstances each one deserves the opportunity to air his grievances. If it takes until February, so be it.