Sports is a funny industry. It is perhaps the one remaining segment of society where every high-level member is of a single gender, and this is considered to be okay. I don’t think anyone is up in arms that there are no women in the NFL or NBA; it’s understood that women, being generally smaller, are at a competitive disadvantage and are excluded on that basis and not simply because of their gender. Now, one of the side effects of this male dominance is that sports and masculinity are very much tied to one another.
When I was in high school, if a fellow male expressed an ignorance about sports, a voice in the back of my head would say “well, there you go.” Stuff like that had implications. I was more obsessed with sports than most, and couldn’t understand why a red-blooded American male wouldn’t be able to name all 30 teams in Major League Baseball. They must have been weird, or effete, or whatever shoe my mind felt fit. More often than not, I wasn’t friends with those guys.
There is a notion in America that to be a man, one must enjoy football. How many sitcoms have you watched where the dad turns on football and the wife groans? I’m told it’s the same way with soccer in Europe, so this isn’t just an American phenomenon. Increasingly, however, I find myself not just disagreeing with the notion, but actively opposed to it. We are doing favors to no one.
This idea that sports and masculinity are intertwined probably turns away young girls and maybe even some boys who might otherwise become athletes or fans. Boys are handed baseballs, girls are given Barbies; it is ingrained from a young age that girls aren’t expected to enjoy sports. We exclude women and then sigh when they ask how football works during the Super Bowl. Is it any wonder that the sitcom wife groans at the sight of hockey?
I can’t help but wonder if the hyper-masculine culture that fills locker rooms is the reason Robbie Rogers, an American soccer player, retired when he made his homosexuality public last week. His teammates were all publicly supportive of him, but I don’t know what would have occurred on the field. There are no openly gay active professional athletes in any of the major sports.
If we take it for granted that “real men watch sports,” aren’t we limiting ourselves as a gender? It seems no different to me than the suggestion that “real men fix cars,” or “real men don’t cry.” It’s silly; who gets to determine whether you or I am a real man or not? That is a judgment best left to God and genetics.