Football, Violence, and the Language of Male Domination


By Mark Naison

Some of the best times of my youth and well into my 20’s took place on a football field. Like many young men who played the game, I needed an outlet for the violence inside me. An outlet that would bring me respect, camaraderie and the friendship of other men, a friendship that crossed racial and cultural barriers more than almost any other activity I was involved in. But though the game required skill and athletic ability,it was still about violence. and my aptitude for it for it derived from the violence implanted in me by parental beatings and scores of childhood fights.

The language that suffused the sport, whether on the field or the locker room, was also violent, and in many cases, had women as its subject. Men were not only challenged and insulted by comparing them to women, but sexual conquests, real and imagined, were a constant subject of bragging and banter. Control over and consumption of women were constant subjects, to the point that when I became politically conscious in my late teens and 20’s, I was reduced to silence on the football field, not my normal way of handling situations.

But the point is this. The culture of football, as I experienced it in the 1960’s and 1970s, was something that I could easily see spilling over into domestic violence. Both because so many of the people who played it well were filled with rage, and because women were so thoroughly objectified by the language almost everyone used. Have things changed so much since then? I don’t think so. It would be interesting to have a tape recorder on in a college or professional football locker room and hear how women are talked about in that setting.

I may be wrong, but if I am right, the effort to deal more forthrightly with domestic violence among football players may be more complicated and difficult than at first meets the eye.

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