Dr. Fred Rabinowitz discusses sport as a method of connection and sport as a corporate creation.
I just got back from the gym and the noontime pickup basketball game. I feel an endorphin high from the running up and down the court and a psychological thrill from the occasional basket or pass or stifling defense I may have employed. I enjoy the friendly competition. I bask in the kibitzing with the guys I know just from the court. It feels good to catch up on life outside my usual sphere of daily travel. On another day of the week at noon, I play tennis with a male colleague from my department and on another lucky afternoon I golf with a couple of other male professors. My connection is through the physical activity we experience together. These sports break down the usual protective walls and lead to a more intimate male connection than would be possible in everyday life in my world. I love sports for the physical buzz and the social sharing made possible.
When I read the paper or watch ESPN I am struck by how distant my version of sports is to the corporate reality of college and professional sports. To be a division 1 college athlete or professional player earning millions of dollars is a totally distinct experience that has not much bearing to my love of playing. The recent uncovering of yet another scandal at the University of Colorado around recruiting and accusations of rape reveals a dark side to athletics. Gifted athletes need to be seduced by the mythic visions of parties and sex so that a particular college or university can sport a winning team. The rationale is that a winning team will bring money to the university through ticket sales, television contracts, and alumni giving. The athlete is merely a pawn in a larger game. Exploiting young men’s masculine egos is a means to an end. The athlete is promised the spoils of being an alpha male, which includes access to women, drugs, and VIP treatment. Little does he know that the only reason they sell him on the masculine power myth is because it benefits those in real power who make profits off of his effort.
When the system is exposed, the pawns are the first to be accused, followed by the coaches and those that used the system to do their jobs. The athletes, who thought that strippers and alcohol were the rewards for their athletic prowess, find that when they take liberties with women not being paid by the system, they are rightfully accused of rape and sexual assault. They have been tricked into believing that being a sexual stud was a part of the masculine identity they have earned from their prized value as an athlete. It doesn’t help that beer companies such as Coors create fantasies of partying in the Rockies with beautiful big-busted women in their commercials while splicing scenes of football and cheerleaders around their product. If I was a young man who had been anointed the king of men for my strength and athletic skills, I too might expect the spoils. Like it or not, the athlete is the role model for many young men who emulate these created heroes. Those who identify with the male superstar athlete also learn to expect the entitlements, inappropriately objectifying women and narcissistically elevating their own status.
I wish playing sports in our country was only about getting in shape, finding a healthy cathartic release for built up tension, and cultivating friendship. Unfortunately, this isn’t the vision of sports for Corporate America (C.A.). Most couch potatoes and male television watchers are the targets of C.A.’s concerted effort to relate sex and sports to sell its products. The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity, with its emphasis on promoting healthy masculinity is David against this corporate Goliath. We represent a vision of masculinity that values relational connection not objectification. We believe men are acceptable in all their varieties, colors, and sexual preferences. Many of our members are at ground zero of this battle, finding in-roads to talk to students and athletes at the college and professional levels about being a man, relating to women, and seeing through the corporate cultural myth of male privilege. Many SPSMMers go into the middle school, high school, college, and professional sports environments to educate boys, men, and male athletes for their own good and the good of the people with whom they come in contact.
Our work in this division is a small but powerful antidote to Corporate America’s dosing of sexism to sell its products. For all those in the division who teach, write, protest, counsel, research, father, mother, and stand up in their everyday lives to make a difference for the boys and men of our world and in the process the girls and women, this column is for you! Let’s continue to actively support each other in the Promethean effort to make this world a better place for all of us.
Originally published in the Winter, 2004 SPSMM Bulletin.