The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The Backstop

The NFL fined several players on Oct. 19 for what it deemed illegal hits; league officials felt the players tackled incorrectly because they led with their heads, causing too-brutal collisions, something the NFL grows increasingly concerned with due to evolving information about the effects of an NFL career on the human brain.

Ensuing debates about whether the NFL’s fines of $50,000 and upwards were justified or hypocritical dominated sports journalism and continue to do so, but I have yet to hear or read a key word in the discussions — masculinity.

Girls play organized football in three forms: flag football, powderpuff games, and the annual Lingerie Bowl. There is actually a Lingerie Football League, full contact but in lingerie. Male-created and male-dominated, the NFL is run mainly by men, and watched mainly by men.

From an early age we teach boys to bottle up their energy in the classroom and to release it on the football field. We teach boys to contain their energy, but to release it while tackling the ball-carrier. We teach to tackle without fear, to instill fear in the opponent, because weakness has no place inside the confines of a helmet.

Guys like Ray Lewis, linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens, drift to the middle of the field when the center hikes the ball to the quarterback, and wait, like a tiger in the reeds, for the quarterback to throw the ball. When he throws it to a receiver running across the middle, guys like Lewis pivot and sprint to meet the receiver, and at the last instant fire a shoulder into the receiver’s sternum, causing a coincidental collision of helmets, causing a seed of fear to plant itself in the receiver’s mind. Next time he catches the ball across the middle he will be wide-eyed, and he will duck.

When these assertions of alpha-dog status occur, we millions on the couches mimic the few on the field — we erupt from our seats into a chorus of yelling, into high-fives and chest-bumps. We desire our team to be faster, stronger, and tougher, and to impose its will on the other team. We relish the bone-crushing hit.

We have been taught to relish these bone-crushing hits. The NFL Network made a list of the top 10 most feared tacklers in NFL history. Little boys are taught that the harder they hit, the better. Football movies like “Remember the Titans” and “Any Given Sunday” use montages of big hits to pump up the viewer, hits the NFL would deem illegal. The only people performing the hits are the toughest, and most successful of men. Society’s glorification of big hits works itself into the formation of boys’ masculinities on the football field.

The NFL economically capitalizes on society’s glorification of its league’s most brutal collisions. We watch in the hopes that our linebackers demolish the opposing running back. The NFL’s mere existence perpetuates what boys learn on the football field, both about football, and about themselves.

The league offices’ desire to eliminate these brain-bruising hits is like trying to topple a mountain by knocking off its peak. Destruction must come from within — an erupting volcano. If the NFL truly wishes to eliminate these hits we love, they must begin at the roots in masculinity — Ray Lewis stars in Old Spice commercials for a reason.


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