While my heart rests with the NBA, I respect and applaud the MLB for having a paternal leave policy like a normal, progressive employer. I further applaud Colby Lewis for making good use of it. Not up for kudos, though, is Dallas Observer sportswriter Richie Whitt who makes a point of demeaning Lewis for his parenting decisions. Andrea Grimes at Hay Ladies! takes him to task in a way that I could only dream of doing.
But we need to go a step further and call out Whitt for using his shock-jock personality to perpetuate a system of toxic masculinity wherein men are only real dudes if they don’t do too much of that being-a-human-being shit, like trying to physically and emotionally support their families, witness once-in-a-lifetime moments and demonstrate that there’s more to life than a paycheck. Toxic masculinity, gender policing and shaming doesn’t just hurt women. Doesn’t just hurt men. Hurts everyone. Hurts families. Hurts people, all people, who deserve to not be pigeonholed and socially pressured into any one kind of behavior based on the junk in their drawers.
In case you didn’t hear, this Sunday is the Super Bowl. America is poised and ready to clear out all of the tortilla chips from every grocery store, drink a lot of Budweiser, and watch the Packers and the Steelers hash it out in between all of those multi-million dollar commercials. I don’t have anything against this – I am a card-carrying sports fan and while I don’t know anything about the NFL, nobody talks trash about my boyfriend the NBA.
While that league has had its own share of this same problem, I’m amped and ready to discuss Pittsburgh’s golden boy, Ben Roethlisberger. Two weeks ago, as soon as the Steelers clinched their Super Bowl appearance for 2011, stories of “redemption” and “overcoming adversity” cropped up regarding Big Ben. I’m still confused as to where this adversity stems from. Is it his multi-million dollar salary? Is it his role as a white male athlete in America? Tell me, please, world, what heartfelt tale of thwarting the odds involves Roethlisberger? Last time I checked, this is a guy who rode a motorcycle without a helmet, crashed it and almost died. This is a guy who has been not once, but twice, accused of sexual assault in his seven year professional career. This is a guy that just doesn’t seem to learn.
Even as a professed sports fan, it amazes me that getting to the Super Bowl and (possibly) winning means that any kind of inappropriate behavior is somehow totally acceptable or that somehow victory indicates this kind of behavior has been conquered even when the person involved says or does nothing to indicate any kind of growth. Once the team is victorious, who cares that this guy was accused of cornering a woman in a bathroom and forcing himself on her? Who cares that this guy also allegedly assaulted a woman in Lake Tahoe just 2 years prior?
Obviously someone did, because last year at the NFL draft, as the Steelers were poised to make their selection, the crowd began chanting “She said no!” – and that’s from people drinking the kool-aid, present to see teams pick up new players. It was a rare moment that the club acknowledge one of its own had possibly, allegedly, used his power as an athlete, as a celebrity, and as someone who felt entitled to take advantage of someone else in the most reprehensible way. Letting him believe that a championship forgives that is a crime we are all committing.
I have kept up on most of the press containing any kind of redemption song for Big Ben, and there has been a lot. I understand that when you support a team, you want to support the best. You want to be behind them and see them win and bring glory to a fan base and its city. But what has to stop is this idea that the person on the field and the person off are two different people. If I assaulted someone, I wouldn’t be able to just show up at my job and not expect consequences (not to mention legal ramifications.) America wants a bootstraps story, wants a hero, and sometimes we’re just going to have to accept when the people we want to be our champions all-around, aren’t.
To parallel an excellent piece on espnW (oh, you haven’t heard of that? it’s espn for girls. it’ll come up again, soon) – until Ben Roethlisberger attends some rehabilitation, starts a campaign stressing the importance of respect and the word NO when it comes to sexual activity, and asks for forgiveness, he shouldn’t be treated as someone who has conquered his demons and overcome adversity. The answer to the question I posed is, of course, no.
Sometimes I think GQ is edited by someone who was a complete nerd in high school. As an adult, he is hellbent on talking about what’s cool as much as possible, because now he has become an arbiter of that intangible. GQ always strives for this. It’s the guy at a bar, nattily dressed without looking like it, nursing some microbrew that has an unpronounceable name. It’s the guy who leans in a doorway. GQ wants to be Jordan Catalano for the 21st century.
With its February cover, GQ seeks to diversify its definition of cool into not only a discussion of athletes through the decades, but also with the archetypes represented by each man. You have Kelly Slater, the laid-back surfer. Tim Lincecum, the baseball pitcher throwing his unabashed use of marijuana at America’s past time. Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Arnold Palmer, Michael Jordan – the untouchables, the GOATs who have cemented their roles.
Each one of these men defines a time in American culture and in their respective sport. Their reflections of masculinity vary – it’s inarguable to me that the a football player is anything like a surfer, or a golfer. Football is tradition, America, full contact. Golf is leisure, luxury, grace under pressure. And surfing, well that’s for people who deflect their actual hard work with the appearance of laziness. Each has that etheral quality that makes him “cool.” While your rankings might be different (I’ll bet mine would), GQ offers the opportunity for every fanboy in the universe to also be cool by virtue of the fact that he idolizes one of these athletes. It gives the reader the chance to see himself in the swagger of Jordan, or the traditionalism of Tom Brady. It’s GQ’s very own version of “What Sex and the City character would you be?” with athletes.
I think I’d be Dr. J.