Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Jock Culture" and Masculinity

I came across two different articles recently that deal with the topic of sports and "jocks" and how that relates to masculinity. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a bit of a jock, even at the advanced age of 44. But that is not how I tend to identify myself.

However, when I was young, say high school and college - when I was playing soccer at a competitive level - I preferred the jock tag among all the others. I rebelled against being a "brain" - the smart kids were rarely the cool kids - and although it was accurate in high school to call me a "stoner" or a "druggie," those also were not labels I was comfortable with.

Being a jock was more manly - and I didn't really know that meant, but I knew the jocks were dating the pretty girls. That's about all the motivation a teenage boy needs.

These two articles look at the construction of masculinity within the sports/jocks framework, and for or worse, I suspect a lot of boys and young men learn how to be "masculine" within this tribal cultural context.

Unfortunately, for many boys, this is the only context in which they learn about masculinity or being a man - and the range of expression is VERY limited. We need look only here to understand why so many men have limited emotional expression or fear being seen as feminine, or god forbid, gay.
Canadian Social Science, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2011, pp. 1-14
Sporting Masculinity on the Gridiron: Construction, Characteristics and Consequences

Curtis Fogel

Abstract: This paper draws on interviews with 81 Canadian football players and administrators across junior, university, and professional football, as well as 20 published autobiographies of football players, to examine the development and consequences of sporting masculinity. In this paper, the concept of sporting masculinity is further developed and contrasted with other masculinities, particularly hegemonic masculinity. Various aspects of sporting masculinity in Canadian football are examined such as: the development of a male space, sentiments of superiority both on and off the field, body image issues, playing through pain and injury, analogies of war, and football as a total institution. This paper concludes with a discussion of the dangerous and harmful consequences of sporting masculinity to football players, as well the larger social issues that arise from this identity and the characteristics it can entail.
“We have surrendered our identities to some stereotyped stallion gone mad. And the more this horse seems to be disappearing from our culture, the more fervidly we cling to the saddle. The new institutional representation and spokesman for this horse has become sport, especially football.” (Gary Shaw, 1972, p. 221)
The whole article can be downloaded or viewed as a PDF.

This next article ran in The Nation's sports issue (which is no longer on newsstands), and Deadspin reprinted it. The article looks at the distinction (from the 1960s at affluent schools) between jocks and pukes - not hard to guess which group is the "cool" kids.

What Jock Culture Does To Pukes Like You

AUG 5, 2011 2:00 PM

The following piece originally ran in The Nation's sports issue, on newsstands now.
In the spring of that hard year, 1968, the Columbia University crew coach, Bill Stowe, explained to me that there were only two kinds of men on campus, perhaps in the world—Jocks and Pukes. He explained that Jocks, such as his rowers, were brave, manly, ambitious, focused, patriotic and goaldriven, while Pukes were woolly, distractible, girlish and handicapped by their lack of certainty that nothing mattered as much as winning. Pukes could be found among "the cruddy weirdo slobs" such as hippies, pot smokers, protesters and, yes, former English majors like me.
I dutifully wrote all this down, although doing so seemed kind of Puke-ish. But Stowe was such an affable ur-Jock, 28 years old, funny and articulate, that I found his condescension merely good copy. He'd won an Olympic gold medal, but how could I take him seriously, this former Navy officer who had spent his Vietnam deployment rowing the Saigon River and running an officers' club? Not surprisingly, he didn't last long at Columbia after helping lead police officers through the underground tunnels to roust the Pukes who had occupied buildings during the antiwar and antiracism demonstrations.
As a 30-year-old New York Times sports columnist then, I was not handicapped by as much lack of certainty about all things as I am now. It was clear to me then that Bill Stowe was a "dumb jock," which does not mean stupid; it means ignorant, narrow, misguided by the values of Jock Culture, an important and often overlooked strand of American life.
These days, I'm not so sure he wasn't right; the world may well be divided into Jocks and Pukes. Understanding the differences and the commonalities between the two might be one of the keys to understanding, first, the myths of masculinity and power that pervade sports, and then why those myths are inescapable in everyday life. Boys—and more and more girls—who accept Jock Culture values often go on to flourish in a competitive sports environment that requires submission to authority, winning by any means necessary and group cohesion. They tend to grow up to become our political, military and financial leaders. The Pukes—those "others" typically shouldered aside by Jocks in high school hallways and, I imagine, a large percentage of those who are warily reading this special issue of The Nation—were often turned off or away from competitive sports (or settled for cross-country). They were also more likely to go on to question authority and seek ways of individual expression.
Read the whole article.

1 comment:

Bill said...

So nonathletic boys are considered to not be cool, eh? What a sad commentary on our society! We enjoy many modern comforts and conveniences that were made possible by such men, yet we often hold scientists in contempt.

Does it ever occur to anyone that there have been men of great courage who never had an interest in sports? Intellectual men have spoken against tyranny in their homelands for centuries -- the most recent of which was the late Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the eminent Soviet physicist who became a human rights activist. One of the greatest heroes of World War II wasn't even a soldier. He was a citizen of a neutral country who conducted rescue operations in Budapest to save the lives of Hungarian Jews. In the early 1980s Raoul Wallenberg became only the third foreigner to be granted honorary American citizenship by the government of the United States. (He likely had died by this point in time as an inmate of the Soviet gulag.) He was a man of extraordinary courage. He put his own life on the line to save the lives of others, surviving several assassination attempts. By the way, he had no use for competitive team sports; so, I guess he was some kind of loser, eh?

The jock culture does not recognize the courage of men such as Sakharov and Wallenberg. Absolutely pathetic! The jock culture is just another kind of prejudice and bigotry.

I personally know of athletes who reject the jock culture, and I deeply appreciate them. But sometimes they seem to be in the minority.