“Stop being a girl!”
That’s what I heard every Saturday morning growing up. My house was separated from the middle school’s sports fields by a rickety fence which didn’t stop the football coach’s jeers from floating over to our side. “C’mon, girls!” Exercise after exercise would be filled with that cry. Practice after practice, I’d hear that coach scream it many times. Even during games. The meaning was always clear to me: in the world of male sports, the word “girl” seemed synonymous with “weak.”
And, yet, it still shocked me. In middle school, “C’mon, girls!” was encouragement from our softball captain as she led us through exercises. But in the world of male sports, most notably football, it was meant to degrade.
The Toxicity of Football Culture
The Superbowl is coming up in a few weeks and I can’t help but cringe every time I see Facebook articles about it or overhear other college students in the residence hall that I live in shouting over a game. Call me un-American, but I don’t have much love for football. To me, it’s boring, it has silly rules, too many breaks, and too wordy commentators. However, worst of all: I think it breeds a culture of toxic masculinity that harms all genders.
Football is about dominating. Amy Schumer did a skit last year that poked fun at and criticized the culture of sexual violence that surrounds football. In it, a football coach has one rule for his players: no raping. Throughout the skit, football players pose the questions we hear every day when it comes to sexual violence: what if she is drunk? What if she is dressed a certain way? And so on and so forth. In the end, the football coach gives an impassioned speech where he asserts that football isn’t about rape, but “it’s about violently dominating anyone who stands between you and what you want.” It’s unfortunately true that you can apply that definition to either topics discussed. Football is about power.
And, truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with football being about power. It’s a game. Many sports are about power or gaining the upper-hand. The problem lies in this: no other sport in American culture is as lauded and honored as football. Sure, baseball is important to us, but baseball isn’t played quite like football. Football is rough. It’s the chase, and pushing, and tackling. And it speaks volumes when we put this kind of game on a pedastel. Thrust in our face is a culture where a man must be strong, tough and powerful. He must be able to take down anything that’s in his path to get what he wants.
This is the kind of culture that boys are expected to adhere to. It’s masculinity at its finest. There’s nothing wrong with being more masculine or more feminine, but for those who identify as men, not appearing masculine enough, not appearing or acting like those football players, can be detrimental. They run the risk of being bullied, called a “girl,” having homophobic slurs flung at them (given that being seen as more feminine is sometimes considered synonymous with being gay), and having violence perpetuated against them. Football puts men into a box that’s difficult and scary to leave.
What the NFL Fails to Address
When this culture is accepted and perpetuated throughout America it leads to far more consequences. It tells us that men must always be in power. It tells us that they must dominate. Two years ago, NFL player Ray Rice was caught on camera hitting his then-fiancée. This widely disseminated video opened up a conversation about domestic violence and football culture: is this behavior a result of the violent culture maintained by the NFL?
Rice’s contract was terminated later that year and he was indefinitely suspended. However, he has since been reinstated into the NFL following an appeal. The 2015 Superbowl had a PSA on domestic violence, but is that enough? This year’s draft saw the drafting of Jameis Winston into the NFL. Winston was investigated for sexual violence at his alma mater, and his victim spoke about the assault extensively in the striking documentary The Hunting Ground. The NFL’s reasoning? They had their own investigation and found no evidence incriminating Winston. Erica Kinsman’s voice means nothing to the NFL.
This year, I may eat nachos and sit between screaming fans, but I will not enjoy the Superbowl. I find no pleasure in a culture that hurts all genders. I find no pleasure in the NFL, which continuously fails to take serious action to repair damage. I refuse to find pleasure in a culture that doesn’t move forward. In a perfect world, football and a culture where masculinity isn’t a central focus, where individuals with violent histories aren’t accepted into a sports organization, and where those who don’t fall into the gender box don’t have to live in fear could co-exist in harmony. But, that can’t happen unless we are aware and unless we want to move forward, out of darkness and into understanding.
NFL, football players, football fans, your move.
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