As a sociologist, I should hate football. It’s known to be a dangerous sport with long-term damaging effects to brains and bodies. In fact, here is a sociological analysis of how masculinity hurts men (and their bodies) via Football. No doubt, within football, there are many systems of inequalities operating—including but not limited to race, economics, prestige, worker’s rights, and I could go on. However, I grew up under the Friday night lights of Texas and have always lived in big football towns. As such, I also get why it can be treated as a religion.
Sociologically, the game, the business, and all of the dynamics and decision-making that surround the players and the league are fascinating. I especially like the behind the scenes coverage of football. But mostly, I like learning about the art and physics of the game—the bodies in motion and their comportment (here is one of my favorite clips on the precision of passing—which I highly recommend for use in classes during discussions of reliability and validity jic). I bring this up here particularly because overall I find football quite queer.
Football is a masculine paradox. Initially it may seem explosive, rock hard, and even violent, but in slow motion it appears graceful and fluid. The men involved are quite emotional and even moody at times—terms we wouldn’t typically associate with masculinity. But here we revere men’s passion for the game and tears at a loss, or win for that matter. In America, football is often portrayed as the epitome of masculinity. It is a hyper-masculinity that is actually quite over the top, at the same time football can also be very campy (especially when players have to be very precise and flexible with their bodies and as related to their emotions).
My favorite position is the tight end.
Based on the male-to-male touching, the language used, and the athletic bodies, many innuendos and out right claims have been made related to its homoeroticism. I am not the first to note this—just Google “homoerotic” and “football” for further evidence. It has been associated with “ritual homosexuality” and one article I ran across even referred to Football as “America’s Gayest Pastime.”
Last week(end) was the NFL draft and in honor of all paradoxes, I thought I would share my three favorite masculine moments in the draft. They involve three players in particular—Mike Evans, Johnny Manziel, and Michael Sam. (Sociologically, Jadeveon Clowney’s 2014 NFL Draft Promo also caught my eye with him running shirtless through rain attacking football tackling dummies set to a thunderstorm and animalistic breath sounds—but that is a whole different blog in itself).
Disrupting the Backfield
#1. I will begin with Sam the most mundane and also most extraordinary. Upon getting his phone call and being drafted in the last day in the 8th to last spot, he shares a kiss felt around the (football) nation with his male partner (click Sam above and scroll down to see the kiss). The kiss was on the lips and very short by all definitions and closed mouth—a first male same-sex kiss for the professional league, and perhaps for ESPN coverage. Sam is the first openly gay player to be selected in a draft and if he makes the team he will be the first out professional football player.
To ESPN’s credit, they treated Sam in that moment like they did any and all other athletes. Since Sam is gay, this is actually a huge deal. Sam became by far the most visible 7th rounder pick and controversial in the league and has since received a great deal of coverage due to his sexual orientation and sadly backlash from the kiss. Media is still discussing this topic one week later. Much of the concern stemming from the backlash was for the children who might be watching and how they will be affected, in addition to what this will mean for the men in the locker room, and that there is just no place for kissing in football. The homophobic narratives and symbolic language are actually quite interesting—the idea that men that represent “true” masculinity and are the king of warrior kings within our society would be scared of one man in the locker room. However, as academics we know that “locker room” is code talked about as referring to team cohesion in narratives, but in reality means place where we are naked and vulnerable.
There have also been some great spoofs that have come to Sam’s defense or played on the for the sake of children narratives—you should check them out. Here is my favorite to which my friend and colleague Cate Taylor said it best with: “It had to be done.” This one is particularly great because it highlights how much kissing is a part of the football backdrop, and supports the traditional masculinity of the player image. I also really enjoyed the play on the concern “for the children” that twitter took on here.
#2. Mike Evans is drafted. Surrounded by his family, agents, and friends at the draft he reaches for his daughter and kisses and hugs her upon registering the news. He also appears to get quite choked-up which is understandable, as he has just achieved a lifetime goal. He tries to avoid the camera with his eyes and is checked on by multiple other men as to if he is alright. I love this masculine moment. We see men showing their emotions, being nurturing, and supporting one another in ways that outside of the context of sport could be argued as quite feminine.
Here is a link to someone’s recording of this moment, however, I could not find the actual footage of this on youtube and I have been looking for it for four days now. So this is the best we have. There is footage of most of the other top players selected hearing their news and walking up. I don’t know if this means anything…although I usually find the absence of such things just as insightful.
#3 Johnny Football comforts Mike Evans. In the same clip, we see Evans and Johnny Football embrace. It is a longer and intimate embrace—one of brothers. I like this moment. It’s the embrace that is typically only seen as ok between male family members in times of grief and extreme pride…and as we know in sport. Otherwise, it might be deemed gay and thus is just not done if you are a masculine dude.
In all of the above cases, we see men showing affection and supporting one another in a way that is generally considered atypical outside of the context of sports. Outside of the context of sports and family, these moments would not go along with the traditional masculine narrative. Yet within the sports framework, and in some of the most masculine spheres, these behaviors are frequent and understandable. Not feminine, nor gay at all.