Psyched: Sports and Identity
April 26, 2014
West Point. Army Football Media Day. Bing. August 2, 2010.
      Globalization and the information age have brought us knowledge work.  Strong muscles, the sweat of one’s brow, and a tolerance for grime are no longer necessary for gainful employment.  Instead, verbal and written communications skills, proficiency with digital technologies, and advanced substantive knowledge are required.  Intellectual productivity offers few opportunities for the demonstration of masculinity.  Long hours sitting quietly at a computer suggest indolence.  Redemption through attire styled for manual labor has been prohibited by business casual workplace dress codes.  Physical action is confined to trips to the restroom and cafeteria.  A meeting that results in fisticuffs requires a call to the authorities.  No wonder sports are so popular among men.  Possibilities include an amateur baseball league, the treadmill at the gym, fantasy football online, and season tickets to major league basketball games.  Vicarious participation has become as acceptable as actual participation.
      Commerce has met these needs for male definition and validation; it has quite successfully capitalized upon them.  The best customers have been men; the focus of sports news coverage and advertising has been upon them.  The former addresses all of the nuances of the action on and off the field or court.  The latter exploits men’s insecurities and women’s bodies.  Super Bowl commercials exhibit these characteristics by denigrating femininity whether portrayed by women or men.  Concern with appearance, expression of emotions, and homemaking are all depicted with distain (Green & Van Oort, 2013).  "Real men" are gifted with strong, healthy bodies through action on the field or in the field.  They manage their daily psychological stresses just as strongly as they handle the ball, jackhammer, or lawnmower.  They have no need for make-up, support groups, or cleaning supplies.             
     Indeed, it’s all about image.  Consumption of beer, viewing sporting events, driving sport utility vehicles or trucks, and wearing durable brands of pants socially construct masculinity.   Rather than contest or explore the dominant definition of masculinity, the media support it in their promotions of such products (Messner, 2012).  When highly visible icons of masculinity like professional athletes stumble, media coverage of their foibles glosses over their failings.  These stories define the athletes as victims; they ignore the people who were harmed by the athletes’ behaviors (Messner, 2012).  Such incidents could encourage productive national conversations about domestic violence, sexual assault, and alcoholism.  The media’s choice to act as public relations spokespersons rather than journalists has largely prevented such discussions.
    Imagine, instead, Super Bowl broadcasts in which the promise of healthy masculinity is demonstrated and depicted.  During the game, we view strength, grace, agility, collaboration, and courtesy.  Brutality, force, and verbal denigration are markedly absent.  Commercials offer products and services for the achievement of such vibrant physical and emotional health.  They include fruit juices, sparkling waters, miniature golf courses, tennis attire, family vacations, athletic shoes, peanut butter, and pretzels.  Sport spectatorship would stop being an escape from the demands of intellectual labor and domesticity.  It would become a celebration of self-discipline, teamwork, and community. 
Green, K. & Van Oort, M. (2013). “We wear no pants”: Selling the crisis of masculinity in the       
         2010 Super Bowl commercials. Signs, 38(3), 695-719.
Messner, M. (2012). Reflections on communication and sport: On men and masculinities.     
         Communication & Sport, 1(1/2), 113-124.

Strong or Sexy: Why do Fans Watch Sports?

by Laura Rizzardini

February 1, 2014

      Title IX legislation ushered in an era of better opportunities in sports for school girls and young women.  Today, there are female high school basketball teams, girls in Little League, and female college track stars. Still, publicity about professional female athletes and sports teams is lagging.  Professional male athletes and sports teams dominate the electronic, digital, and print media.  Unlike men, women athletes are judged by their attractiveness as well as their athletic ability. Sometimes, media presentations of professional female athletes emphasize their appearance and their sexuality.  Analyses of the covers of Sports Illustrated have demonstrated that the presence of women on the cover has declined in the 21st century (Weber & Carini, 2012).
      The segregation of male and female major sports leagues fosters this unequal treatment in the press.  For example, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is populated solely with women.  Although they are professional models, none of them are athletes.  The only fashions they are modeling are swimsuits; the designs are more revealing than stylish.  There’s no discussion of water sports.  The text is mostly limited to credits for the models, photographers, and locations.  The only articles are gossip columns dense with photographs, links, and Twitter postings.  Some of the links lead to explicit photographs and local opportunities for sexual encounters.   Television sports coverage in major metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York City focuses primarily on men’s major league sports.  The international sports coverage of ESPN is no different. 
      It seems that men are more interested in sports than women, too.  It is primarily men who watch sports news.  These programs provide statistics about players, teams, and leagues.  They review and discuss game performances in detail.  Announcements of player injuries, recruitment, and trades are common (Wann, Grieve, Partridge, Zapalac, & Parker, 2013).  Perhaps, women would watch more sports programming if more women were the subjects of it?   Women would rather watch the games of their preferred teams (Wann, Grieve, Partridge, Zapalac, & Parker, 2013).  They may feel some commonality or loyalty with their hometown or college teams even if they don’t include women.  Their participation as fans and spectators might become greater if women’s sports received regular media coverage.  Magazines like Sports Illustrated might recover some integrity through appealing to potential female readers.  Coverage of women’s sports might permit them to stop publishing salacious photographs and advertising.  The focus of the magazine might actually become sports.  
Wann, D. L., Grieve, F. G., Partridge, J. A., Zapalac, R. K., & Parker, P. M. (2013). An      
        examination of predictors of watching televised sport programming. North American   
        Journal  of Psychology, 15(1), 179-194.
Weber, J. D. & Carini, R. M. (2012). Where are the female athletes in Sports Illustrated
        A content analysis of covers (2000-2011). International Review for the Sociology of Sport,              48(2), 196-203.

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