The Not So Secret Cult of the Far Too Violent Male: Thoughts on the Penn State Tragedy
There has been so much written about the tragedy at Penn State lately, much of it rightly expressing outrage at how a sexual predator was preserved from prosecution just to save a football dynasty, but little of it really hits on the wider issue that can, I think, be summed up in what many, no doubt, will find to be an absolutely outrageous question, but one that I think needs to be asked: Isn’t football itself sexual violence against boys? Before you throw your computer at me, allow me to explain.
I have talked to hundreds of men in my therapy sessions, and there is a recurring theme with many of them; it’s what I call “macho trauma.” As they recollect on their lives, they start to look back at their teen years, and they get angry. Yes, they’re angry at parents that fail them, friends that betray them, strangers that hurt them; but they’re also angry at their culture, and an aspect of that culture that comes up again and again is the incredibly oppressive, and yet extremely revered, world of men’s sports, especially high school and college football.
Look at the facts. Every day somewhere in America, young boys are brought out onto a sparkling green field of grass by older men and told to fight, hurt, bang, bash, tackle, knock and beat each other. It’s just a game, they say. It builds character, they say. It’s good clean fun, they say. But guess what? It has its victims.
First, there are the boys who play. They are raised to be violent, hard-hitting, and ruthless in their drive to destroy. They are screamed at by older men, “Get out on that field and show me what you got!” which inevitably means act tougher, hit harder, beat all those other boys into the ground. And they are cheered on by howling stadiums of fans for their savagery. No wonder crime and violence, as former football hero and now self-described feminist Donald McPherson says, are almost entirely male problems. The cult of the macho boy, perpetuated by older men, condemns many of these boys to a desensitized life of trouble and confusion where they must prove their value by being tough.
The second set of victims are the women and men and girls and boys who must suffer the violence, sexual or not, of these macho men. It spreads out all across our land, and its details don’t need to be repeated, but it has at least some of its roots in the knock-em-dead world that reveres the brutality of football and the boys that are raised to feed its bone-crushing machine. When you’re brought up on a diet of violence, you grow up hungry for it.
The third set of victims is the boys who are forced to scramble through puberty, find their self-esteem, and make their life choices in a culture, especially in high school, in which football and popularity are largely synonymous. Should a boy choose to be a ballerino, or a clarinetist, or an actor, let’s be honest – he’s going to hear the word “faggot” about as many times as the football players hear the school fight song. He’s going to be shamed, marginalized and belittled by the macho sect, whose goals and attitudes are entirely sanctioned by, again, the older men who spur them on to ever more extreme acts of bodily brutality. Anyone starting to smell a pattern here, one not perhaps as strong, but oddly akin, to the smell coming from the showers at Penn State?
Numerous men in the Penn State system knew that Jerry Sandusky was committing sexual violence against young boys, but none of them took real steps to stop him. Why? It’s called ethical creep. When you as a man spend all your life sending young boys into pretend acts of combat, for which they are held up as the ideal image of their sex, your sense of what “sexual violence” is and how one should respond to it starts to slip into the blurry. So you let it go. You forget about it. You justify it. And why not? There are 100,000 people cheering you on every weekend for your skill at coaching them to it.
[Photo from SarahWhiteTherapy.com]
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