By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
November 14, 2013
The definition of manhood in our sports culture is archaic. It’s as if SportsWorld has been frozen in time — Neanderthal time.
The Richie Incognitio/Jonathan Martin case in Miami is disgusting, not simply because of the ugly particulars in this case, but because of the warped sense of manhood that is the root cause of it. It’s this caveman mentality, which sadly is pervasive across male team sports, that’s truly repulsive.
The NFL definition of what it means to be a man goes something like this: you must be a macho guy whose focus is power and dominance over other people — physically and mentally. It also helps to show a little mean streak, even if it means playing dirty at times.
You must never be seen as “soft” or vulnerable; you can never share your innermost feelings; and you must never express any doubt. If you do, your “Man Card” will be immediately revoked.
When it comes to relationships with women, it’s all about sexual conquests, dude. If your woman gets out of line, you better bring her back in line, even if that requires demonstrating your physical dominance. Remember, manipulating and using women validates your masculinity in the locker room culture. (Note: Incognitio was investigated for sexual assault in 2012.) Being a man is also about being a “party animal” and showing how much you can drink.
Let’s face it, the SportsWorld definition of manhood is spiritually bankrupt. It leaves athletes turning to steroids to get more physically powerful, and recreational drugs and alcohol to deaden the pain of feeling weak and inadequate inside — and not having anyone in the locker room to share those feelings with.
I would imagine that underneath Incognito’s muscles, tattoos and profane bravado there’s one of the most insecure men on the planet. But he’s not alone in SportsWorld. And football’s not alone. Hockey, basketball and baseball all have an unwritten “code” like football that, among other things, serves to define what manhood is all about in that particular sport. For example, in baseball, if you’re a pitcher and one of your players gets hit by a pitch, in order to prove your manhood you must in turn drill a player on the other team with a fastball.
It’s these stone-age codes that have to evolve. Now, don’t get me wrong. Not every professional athlete falls victim to the locker room culture. There are plenty of athletes and coaches who find the jock culture definition of manhood reprehensible and won’t tolerate the childish hazing rituals in sports, whether it is at the high school, college, or professional level. But more of these guys need to stand up and demand that rules and policies be put in place to change this ugly aspect of our sports culture.
Martin showed some “softness” and his teammates attacked that emotional vulnerability like sharks. Apparently, nobody in the Miami Dolphins locker room had the guts to stand up to Incognito and his fellow bullies and say, “This is wrong. This isn’t what being a teammate should be all about.”
Sadly, this distorted idea of masculinity too often filters down to the high school and college levels, where we annually hear of ugly bullying and hazing incidents. Too often our teenage male athletes partake in alcohol, drugs and sex to prove to their teammates that they’re real men.
The NFL (and a good portion of the rest of America’s jock culture) needs to move into the modern era. A lot less false machismo would be a good start. No more demeaning, intimidating and ostracizing those who don’t fit the tired, outdated locker room definition of manhood.
And no more “boys will be boys” responses to this type of immature behavior. This stuff can no longer be tolerated in sports. Every NFL owner, GM and head coach needs to say enough of this locker room insanity — and the “man code” at the root of it.
Real manhood is about feeling empathy for a fellow human’s plight. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s position. It’s asking yourself, “What’s going on in that person’s mind? In his/her heart?” It’s about trying to help alleviate someone else’s pain, not adding to it like Incognito did. It’s about developing meaningful relationships with teammates and making a positive difference in the world.
Richie Incognito should be ashamed of himself. But if we, as a society, continue to allow the warped locker room culture and definition of manhood that spawned Incognito, we should all feel ashamed.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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