By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
June 11, 2016
The definition of manhood in our sports culture is archaic. It’s as if SportsWorld has been frozen in time – Neanderthal time.
I’ve written often in the past about the silliness of the macho man culture in hockey, including the tolerance for fighting, gratuitous cheap shots, and the presence of thugs with limited hockey skills on NHL rosters.
The NFL has its own issues when it comes to the definition of manhood. In the NFL’s locker room culture, you must be a “macho” guy who never reveals feelings or shows any signs of weakness or doubt. Your focus must be power and dominance of other people – physical and mental — on and off the field. Recall the ugly Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin harassment case in Miami.
Power and dominance can be good traits on the football field if harnessed, but there have been too many off-field incidents in recent years in which NFL players have been involved in barroom or strip club brawls. More seriously, there have been an abundance of cases involving NFL players and the physical abuse of women. And, in the case of the Vikings’ despicable Adrian Peterson, abusing his young son.
There’s nothing manly about any of that.
The NBA has its own set of unwritten rules involving manhood. For example, when an opposing player has the skill and audacity to repeatedly drive to the rim and dunk on you, the unwritten rules say you must retaliate with a hard foul that knocks the “offender” to the floor on his next attempt. If you don’t, you risk being labeled soft and getting sent to the D-League. (How about just playing better defense instead of worrying about a payback foul?)
Moreover, being a “man” across the sports world too often means racking up a huge number of sexual conquests and guzzling copious amounts of alcohol in front of your brethren.
Play hard and party hard dude.
The Neanderthal view of manhood goes beyond the NHL, NFL and NBA. It’s a significant part of the Major League Baseball culture too. There are certain unwritten rules that baseball managers and players must follow or risk getting their Man Card pulled.
This season has seen an abundance of old school baseball antics, including purposely throwing at hitters as payback for some perceived slight.
In May, the Texas Rangers’ Matt Bush drilled the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista with a fastball. It was retribution for Bautista hitting a home run against the Rangers last season in the playoffs. The Rangers were angered by Bautista’s bat flip following his home run. (How about just making better pitches to Bautista, and getting him out, instead of being concerned with retribution?)
If Bush had refused to plunk Bautista, he probably would’ve been sent to the minors for not doing the manly thing of hitting an opposing batter on purpose.
According to baseball’s macho man culture, Bautista needed to retaliate for the beanball he had just absorbed from Bush. So, on the next play, he went hunting for a little retribution of his own, sliding aggressively into second base. His cheap shot slide ignited a brawl. (Bautista got the worst of the fight when he received a punch to the jaw from the Rangers’ Rougned Odor.)
Baseball’s unwritten rules are childish and ignorant. For example, if a player lays down a bunt – a legitimate baseball play – in the late innings of a no-hit bid, he’s sure to take a baseball to the ribs the next time he comes to the plate against the offended team.
Let’s zero in on the beanball for a minute. Purposely throwing at a hitter over some perceived slight that occurred the previous season (as in the Bautista case) is as stupid as hockey players dropping their gloves and fighting when the opening puck drops over something that either happened earlier in the current season or during the previous season. (Yes, this behavior has happened many times in the NHL.)
But I digress. Back to Major League Baseball. It shouldn’t be permissible to purposely send message pitches at hitters. It shouldn’t be permissible for baserunners to target fielders with their spikes up. It shouldn’t be permissible for a hitter to run inside the line and spike the Achilles heel of a pitcher covering first base on a bunt play.
The unwritten rules of baseball, which allow retaliation for a laundry list of “offenses” need to be scrapped. Modern Major League Baseball, as a whole, needs to grow up.
Baseball executives claim to want to make the game safer for the players. Hence, they banned catchers from blocking the plate, and runners from bowling catchers over while trying to score. They also banned runners leaving the base paths to target fielders in an effort at breaking up double plays.
They now have to get a handle on intentional payback beanballs. A baseball thrown 95mph at someone is a dangerous weapon.
This past week, the Kansas City Royals’ Yordano Ventura drilled Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado with a 99mph fastball to the ribs. In baseball culture that supposedly makes Ventura a real man, a tough guy. But there’s nothing tough about hitting a defenseless hitter with a rock-hard orb going 99mph.
As Los Angeles Dodgers’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said, “Throwing a baseball at a batter on purpose is the opposite of whatever tough is.”
Hockey players, football players, basketball players and baseball players need to revisit what being a man is all about. They’re all playing kids games but need to start acting like adults.
Neanderthal concepts of manhood in sports need to go the way of the Neanderthal species.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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