Humiliation Macho: Dolphins, Mets, and the Pale Blue Line of Cowardly Male Sports Culture

An article by posted on November 8, 2013
Photo by @nymets

Photo by @nymets

Multiple choice question: What’s the worst, lowest, most humiliating thing you can call a professional athlete in a modern-day locker room?

1. Gay.

2. Girl.

3. N****r.

4. All of the above.

If you answered “4″ we have a lovely Jordany Valdespin T-shirt for you, a real beauty with the logos of both the Mets and Pirates on it, a veritable collector’s item commemorating one of the slimiest moments in recent Mets history, when the team outsourced its discipline to an opposing pitcher. As an added bonus, you’ll get a Richie Incognito poster autographed by Terry Collins and 90 percent of all professional coaches who adopt the lame, pass-the-buck motto of “what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room” currently on such hideous, nauseating display in Miami. Act now, and we’ll throw in authentic baseball cards of Mets rookies forced by tradition – and their knuckle-dragging “veteran” peers – to dress up as women because….you know…nothing’s more humiliating than being female.

Male sports culture is at a low ebb, and quite frankly it’s drifting rapidly away from a quickly liberalizing society that increasingly values diversity and tolerance. In doing so, that culture is telling every young millennial sports fan with a few dollars to spend to go someplace else. For every mongo from the suburbs who relishes his lost high school years as a bully and digs the humiliation of women, homosexuals, and minorities there are many others who love athletic competition and the pageantry of sport – but who will recoil instinctively from a testosterone soaked puddle of intolerance.

There is a line from the disgraceful treatment of a teammate by the now-toxic Incognito (who will probably never put an NFL uniform on again) through to the lame sticking of rookies with exorbitant steak house dinners to the pathetic “tradition” teams like your New York Mets have of engaging in gender-based humiliation and hazing programs – approved by management – to show the rookies what “The Show” is really all about. The message is clear: this is a male culture that prefers the old ways, and we’ll keep it that way.

In the end, it’s cowardice, I think. Teammates rally around the player accused of bullying, and blame the victim. Players defend “traditions” as part of the game, and uphold the “unwritten rules” that places flamboyant young performers like Valdespin and the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig in the crosshairs of coach potato traditionalists, who call sports radio talk shows to blather on about men being men, boys being boys. Voices who talk a big game on Francesa’s show (and kudos to the big fellow for taking a strong stand), living out some fantasy of macho male dominance in a changing world they don’t know how to cope with.

The teams and their culture are deeply misguided. But you know the standard language as well as I do:

Marlon Byrd: “The Pirates did what you were supposed to do. They just sent a message that you don’t do that.”

Terry Collins: “I don’t care what the fans think. This is the big leagues. It’s a big-man’s game.”

LaTroy Hawkins: “He showed absolutely no respect. If you’re going to pimp it, you’re going to suffer the consequences.”

Roger McDowell: “Are you guys a homo couple or a threesome?”

Richie Incognito: “(I’m going to) slap your (expletive) mouth. (I’m going to) slap your real mother across the face (laughter)….wassup, you half n—– piece of (expletive).”

Antrel Rolle: “I think the other guy [Martin] is just as much to blame because he’s allowed it to happen….You know, at this level, you’re a man. You’re not a little boy. You’re not a freshman in college. You’re a man.”

Tyson Clabo: ”What’s perceived is that Richie is this psychopath racist, and the reality is Richie was a pretty good teammate.”

See the pattern there? Martin should have stuck up for himself against hazing – but remember when Valdespin did that when his shirt was torn up, and how that was portrayed? Knuckle under, young man. The culture demands it. Be a man about it.

Grantland’s Brian Phillips has this exactly right, but I’d extend his analysis to all pro sports, not just football:

I love football — it’s so much fun, it’s beautiful, it’s thrilling, it’s an excuse to drunk-tweet in the mid-afternoon — but it has also become the major theater of American masculine crackup. It’s as if we’re a nation of gentle accountants and customer-service reps who’ve retained this one venue where we can air-guitar the berserk discourse of a warrior race.

All this clubhouse hazing, this macho posturing, this humiliation and gender-bashing should simply end. As fans, we pay to watch a competition in a sport that we love. I don’t care about hazing rituals at all, and I don’t think they make teams play better ball in any way.

And then there’s this thought for a rainy November day: who the hell wants to see Noah Syndergaard in drag next season any way?

About the Author ()

Tom Watson became a Mets fan in 1969. His favorite player is Cleon Jones. He is two weeks older than Darryl Strawberry. Tom writes the Social Ventures column for Forbes and teaches in the philanthropy masters program at NYU. He is president of CauseWired, a consulting firm serving nonprofits and causes and has written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, techPresident.com, Social Edge, Industry Standard, Inside, Worth and Contribute magazines, among many other publications. Tom is the author of CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley, 2008 ) a best-selling book that chronicles the rise of online social activism.

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