GSM Live Insights: Detoxifying Masculinity in Sport
The history of hypermasculinity in sport doesn’t start and stop with the athlete. It’s a system perpetuated from the top to the bottom, but in today’s arenas younger generations may be helping to change the landscape and detoxify masculinity in sport from an openness of seeking help for mental health, to “non-traditional” styles pushing the boundaries of the binary.
“There’s this conversation about men denying themselves the ability to live in their wholeness…to say I’m struggling, I’m hurting, I’m vulnerable.”
Don McPherson is a former NFL & CFL quarterback and author of You Throw Like a Girl: The Blindspot of Masculinity. Having this experience, McPherson gives great insight on men in sports being taught to act tough and not to show vulnerability. He explains that we tend to celebrate this toxic behavior, which makes it harder for men to show that they may be hurting or struggling because they are denying the ability to express themselves fully.
“A lot of the anti-trans legislation is absolutely not recognizing that a lot of the point of sport for most young people is not about making it to some professional level.”
As a professor of art, visual culture, as well as gender and sexuality studies at Bates College, Rand is the author of The Small Book of Hip Checks, and shares the difficulties the transgender community faces with inclusion in the world of athletics. She explains that sport is meant to teach us lessons, it allows us to have fun, and that sport is meant to be an outlet, not an environment with impossible standards.
“How do we study masculinity in sport that doesn’t continue to make whiteness invisible?”
Stan Thangaraj is an associate professor of Anthropology at The City College of New York where he examines the stereotypes associated with race, gender and sport. He is the author of Desi Hoop Dreams: Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity and when it comes to detoxifying that masculinity, Thangaraj makes it clear that we cannot continue to act as though certain issues don’t exist by avoiding them altogether. He emphasizes that in order to create a sense of equality, it is of great importance that we acknowledge stereotypes and shut them down.
“The fan culture feeds into the hyper-masculinity and it becomes this feedback loop where it’s a whole other game to follow these athletes.”
Paulette Stevenson is a residential faculty member at Mesa Community College who has a doctorate in rhetoric, writing and literacies, as well as a gender studies certificate from Arizona State University. During the discussion, Stevenson spoke out about how hypermasculinity is celebrated and encouraged by fans. While there might not be an intention to invoke this negative behavior, it can come almost naturally for followers to praise this type of aggressive competitiveness.
“You throw like a girl…it’s denigrating an entire gender to try to tell you not to do that.”
Chris Kluwe is a former NFL player for the Minnesota Vikings, an outspoken advocate for gender equality and author of Otaku. When asked, “What are some ways that you’ve seen male expression get discouraged?” Kluwe explains through the example of learning to throw a football: Men are told specifically to not act like women, (aka “throwing like a girl”), instead of being taught to alter their own form for better results. Sexist comments or a homophobic slurs, are common language on the playing field and contributes to the toxicity.
Luke Brenneman leads an insightful discussion with Don McPherson, Erica Rand, Stan Thangaraj, Paulette Stevenson, and Chris Kluwe as these experts of gender and sport come together to talk about detoxifying masculinity in sport and how to help establish a more equal and enjoyable playing field.