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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/7/13

The Culture of Masculinity in SportsWorld: Lessons from Rutgers University

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The video released this week that documents Rutgers University men's basketball coach Mike Rice abusing his players both physically and verbally was disturbing to many who saw it.  Coaches, including Rick Pitino, called Rice's actions "very disturbing" and noted that his actions "crossed the line." 

Yet, not everyone agrees.  On multiple occasions in reports aired on the Today Show both players and members of the student body--all male--said that his actions were not so bad, that they didn't tell the whole story, that they didn't see what the big deal was.

The range of reactions to the video highlights how entrenched the culture of hyper-masculinity in sports is; and part and parcel with that culture is the requirement that athletes conform to a script of masculinity that demeans its antithesis--femininity.  The use of homophobic and misogynistic slurs--- demeaning a player by referring to him as a female body part, p*ssy, c*nt, which apparently is so common there has been absolutely no mention of this in the media---is both commonplace and deliberate.  The very last thing a male athlete wants to be compared to is a girl, and by extension a gay man.  To assert that he plays like a girl or is a f*g is the highest insult and one from which he will have to work hard to recover.  

The fact of the matter is that this type of verbal abuse is so incredibly common that we rarely notice it.  The only reason why this video captured our attention---and I'm sure it will fade quickly---is because (1) it is coupled with physical abuse and (2) all eyes are focused on men's basketball on the eve of March Madness Final Four weekend.

Many are asking why the athletic director chose such a mild punishment for Coach Rice--3 game suspension and $50,000 fine---when he was first alerted to the abuse taking place in his own gym months ago.   

I'm not surprised at all.  Why?  Because the culture of masculinity in sport is so strong and the use of homophobic and misogynistic language so commonplace that it is barely noticed.  If anything, the athletic director probably set down any punishment at all because the abuse had been caught on tape and he probably worried that it would show up at some point on YouTube.  He probably never anticipated that the reaction would be as big as it was.  How could he?  He had likely heard this type of language since he was a child playing catch in his own backyard, and he had likely heard it routinely as he supervised college coaches and athletes.  Frankly, he probably didn't even notice it most of the time.  Not until it was caught on tape.

I recently read a post on Facebook:  "We don't raise our young boys to be men, we raise them NOT to be girls". 

To be a girl, or a gay man, is to be so inferior that we spend decades trying to ensure that our sons would never become either, even in resemblance if not actual fact.  

And, there are tragic consequences for both gay men and all women as a result of this attitude.  Though some men have come out as gay after they leave the ranks of intercollegiate and / or professional sports, there are not any out gay men today playing college or professional basketball or football.  The impact of the power of the closet must be nothing less than excruciating for the men inside. And, one can only wonder about the impact on their psyche and self-esteem, not to mention the fear they feel, when they are routinely exposed to this type of verbal abuse. 

Remember: Rick Welts the President and CEO of the Phoenix Suns who kept his homosexuality a secret so long (40 years) that when his partner contacted AIDS and died he never mentioned it to his team, his bosses or to David Stern the Commissioner of the NBA.  He was terrified of their reaction.

His fear was real in a sport  where Kobe Bryant, the anointed,  called a referee a "f*ggot," and  where Tim Hardaway  proclaimed,  "I hate gay people."

And, for women, we only have to look at (1) the treatment Britney Griner receives and (2) the tremendous under-funding women's sports receives, including the $40,000/year rookie salary in the WBNA compared to $500,000 in the NBA to know that there is nothing worse than being a girl, especially in SportsWorld.  

No amount of anger management classes or coaching tips will prevent the type of abuse that occurred at the hands of Mike Rice at Rutgers.  This type of abuse will only end when we begin to deconstruct the powerful culture of hypermasculinity in men's sports, when we remove heterosexuality as a requirement for masculinity, and when we begin to value the talents of girls and women. 

Note: In addition to Mike Rice being fired, Jimmy Martelli, an assistant Rutgers men's basketball coach has resigned for he, too, was guilty of the same behavior and the Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, who oversaw the entire debacle has also resigned.

 To read more:  Earl Smith, Race, Sport and the American Dream.

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Angela Hattery Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Associate Director of Women & Gender Studies, George Mason University, author of African American Families: Myths and Realities (2012), the Social Dynamics of Family Violence (2012), Prisoner Reentry and Social Capital (2011) and several other books (more...)
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