Hating Your Passion

Trigger Warning: This post covers instances of sexual assault and rape.

As regular readers know, I did not watch the Super Bowl. This was because of my moral objections to supporting a serial assaulter and all-around asshole like Ben Roethlisberger. Luckily, he and the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers, so all is right in the world. Right? Well, not quite.

Turns out that the Packers were no saints either. This summer, police were called to a resort that housed several Green Bay Packers players in response to two women who accused the men of holding them down while multiple players sexually assaulted them. The players: linebackers Brad Jones and Clay Matthews, guard Josh Sitton, safety Khalil Jones, fullback Korey Hall, backup quarterback Matt Flynn and cornerback Brandon Underwood. The women later changed their story, and all players but Underwood were cleared of charges. Underwood is still under investigation, though charges seem unlikely to actually be pressed for similar reasons as Roethlisberger. It is a case of he said/she said, and our society loves to side with the rich, famous man over rape victims.

So maybe neither team was worth supporting in the Super Bowl. With pro sports full of bad examples, maybe I should turn to amateurs? There is a great deal more purity there, right? Because everyone plays for the love of the game instead of money. Right?

Ohio State recruit won’t face criminal charges after arrest
Oklahoma State starter Williams charged with rape, suspended

Of course not. That would be silly to expect more from college or high school. In fact, this Monday, I found these two articles from SI.com in my RSS reader. They both are equally depressing.

While the first article title doesn’t tell you this, the OSU football recruit is avoiding charges of sexual assaulting a 15-year old girl. The second says a lot, but it doesn’t mention this happened at a party with witnesses standing nearby and passively letting it happen. At least Darrell Williams is getting charged, which is a nice change of pace. Following the track record of above, I do not have high hopes of it going very far.

The point of all this? Sports empowers men to demean, objectify, assault and rape women. More than any social construct I am a part of, sports are a tool of male privilege, and football is the worst of the lot, with basketball not far behind. This hostility toward women happens at all levels, from professionals all the way down to high school kids. I know this personally; I have sat quietly in those locker rooms and listened to terrible views of women espoused by my teammates. I did nothing.

Since then, I have contributed to the problem, with my continued support of the men’s sports these athletes play, I have helped empower them. So when they do terrible things with that power, I am responsible. It is partially my burden. Still, I have done nothing.

Why not? I love sports. From football to hockey, from basketball to tennis, I will watch just about every competitive sport out there. Anyone who knows me long enough realizes that I spend a lot of time watching sports. Outside of video games, it is probably the hobby that I devote the most time to. And so I have chosen my own pleasure and enjoyment over fighting social injustice.

To cut the power of athletes is conceptually an easy task: simply stop watching them. More than anything else, it is putting your eyes on the sport that gives the athletes power. It is the fame and money gained from the fans that gives them free reign to rampage through our society. The NFL makes literally billions of dollars on television deals. That money is equally distributed amongst the teams, meaning eyes on any game really help all of them. In truth, it never mattered if a Roethlisberger is in the game I was watching. Every NFL game I watched put more money in his pocket. Even if I wasn’t giving him money, every post I read, every podcast I listened to about the NFL helped increase his fame. His fame, and all those in football like him.

So I stop watching. Easy right? Giving up baseball is simple; I never much liked it. Basketball not much harder. While I love hockey, my lack of cable limits, my exposure and makes giving it up easier. But football? That is part of me, down to the bones. I come from a family of football players. It is a component of my interaction with a lot of my family, my friends. Some of my fondest memories are of watching Monday Night Football on the coach with my dad. But I should stop. Despite all of those memories, I should stop.

I will stop, even if it takes a while. I am a confident man, but I do know that I am human. It is quite possible that I will not be able to cut out men’s sports cold turkey. Cutting something like this out of your life is not simple, easy, or quick. Much like my departure from religion, I will falter. I will find new false gods to worship, new rationalizations to keep me coming back. But even when I falter, I can still make a difference. Every little bit I don’t watch is another kink in the armor of male athlete empowerment. Eventually, I will kick the habit completely.

Here’s to new hobbies, new passions, and a better tomorrow.

-That is all.

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5 thoughts on “Hating Your Passion

  1. I guess it seems to me that the boorish behavior of the players you describe may be rooted in things other than football (upbringing, entitlement, etc.) and those kinds of characteristics may be a correlation to sports. Since I don’t have the data to support this, I can’t make the argument. But the fact that ex-football players-turned-analysts describe the sport in primitive, savage hyperbole probably does have some reinforcement.

    I’m also conflicted in my response because on one hand, I think you’re making a hasty generalization. For every football player who acts misogynistic, there are counter-examples of football players like Warrick Dunn who built houses for poor single mothers. Or Charles Woodson who donated millions for the UM Mott Women and Children’s Hospital.

    But on the other hand, I respect that you want to make a principled stand in which you are making a sacrifice for something of which you believe. I know of someone who gave up football after Michael Vick returned from prison (and emphatically abstains from it since he won Comeback Player of the Year award).

    Truthfully, the faux machismo of football has never been something I’ve found interesting. It’s always been the chess-like strategy, precision passes, and circus catches and runs. Ultimately, I think football means different things to different people.

  2. Nick Bell says:

    Sports do not inherently cause misogyny. There are many cultural forces that create that personality trait in people. But sports empower people who have those traits already and reinforces them, in the same way that the Catholic Church has empowered child molesters. It is a breeding ground for this kind of thought.

    Your argument of the good that athletes can do is a great defense. And one I have used myself time and time again. But it is perfectly rational to defend supporting sports because of the good they do. Not just because of athletes using their power for productive activities, but on the skills of teamwork, confidence, etc it teaches young people. I will not argue against it. For me, that just isn’t enough anymore, but that is where I draw the line. Like religion, I see the good being far out weighed by the bad. Everyone has to find what works for them, what battles they want to find.

  3. Anita says:

    What would you say about aspects of show business (like certain movies, songs, and/or the actors themselves) that objectify women? Is that somewhat related, or is that a different realm?

  4. Nick Bell says:

    Other entertainment media is related in two different ways.

    The first is very direct. Movies/television/music/etc all give power and privilege to men that is then used to objectify and abuse women. Unlike football, they do a far better job of giving women power, though this is always secondary to men. Current events example: Hailee Steinfeld got a nomination for Best Support Actress in True Grit while Jeff Bridges got one for Best Actor, despite Steinfeld being the main character of the movie and being in nearly ever part of the movie. (I also heard some agism with her as well. Someone actually tried to argue that a 14 year old simply can’t be a lead actress; someone that age MUST only be a supporting one).

    The second is the content of the content itself. Rarely are movies made with an explicit objectification/exploitation/pro-abuse stance. Instead, they are reflects of our social values. As long as we live in a culture that idolizes tough masculine men who treat women as objects, the heroes of our movies will be those kind of people. These heroes then help reinforce the cultural message, making the acceptance of male privilege that much stronger.

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