Whannel, G. (1999) 'Sports stars, narrativization and masculinities', in Leisure Studies, 18: 249 - 65.
Sport is often seen as expressing a straightforward natural masculinity, but closer analysis of media coverage indicates a combination of discourses at work. 'There is no single essential transhistorical masculinity' (250), as an analysis of different moments or episodes in sport will indicate. There is a connection with developing notions of femininity, and feminist scholarship itself has developed new conceptions here [examples on 250], such as socialist feminism or radical separatism. Feminist work has done much to challenge naturalist assumptions about gender, and eventually led to a deconstruction of masculinity as well, again in several forms, including men's studies [discussed 251].
In Sport Sociology, sexuality was first discussed largely through studies of sexual repression or critical freudian inputs. Eventually, the 'historical formation of sporting masculinity' was also being investigated (252). This led to the notion of competing masculinities, 'as dominant but also contradictory' (252). There is a need to examine the totality of gender relations, especially as men's attitudes and behaviour have not changed significantly as a result of feminist programmes. Indeed, there has been a backlash against feminism, in the form of new masculinities.
Masculinity is internally contradictory, and there are obvious tensions between straight and gay men. Other marginalized masculinities include 'black and Asian masculinities, Jewish masculinities, anti-sexist masculinities, men who don't like sport, pacifist masculinities' (253). Sport has been one major way to promote dominant masculinity, and there are additional categories of marginalized 'the physically unfit, gays and lesbians, the disabled, and the old' (253). Sport in particular both divides and unites men: women seem to share a 'greater sense of a communality' (253). Black men, for example, have a specific position in sporting culture -- they are often seen as 'beasts' compared to white heroes [a reference to Hoch's book], and when they seem to overachieve, this is because of some 'myth of natural ability' [citing Cashmore].
However, even in the Victorian period, there were tensions in masculinity, contrasting the manly team player with the rugged individual, for example. Nevertheless, both were rooted in muscular Christianity, which systematically marginalised the feminine. However, there was also 'non-sporting aestheticism', as in Beardsley and Wilde -- this was often accused of being feminine and stigmatised. The period is another example of how there must be dominance, but also 'residual and emergent cultures of masculinity' [as in 'hegemony', of course]: in the modern era, Victorian patriarchs are being replaced by 'new lads'.
There may be a recent crisis in masculinity, certainly according to some press commentary. Social change in work, education, employment and the family, and excessive feminism, are often cited as causes (see 255). However, there has never been a fixed notion of masculinity, and no real alteration in the balance of power between the genders -- instead it is 'a crisis in the cultural modes through which masculinity presents itself' (255) [so is the crisis entirely discursive, with no connections to any real social changes?].
The well-known masculine characteristics of 'hardness' [see Jefferson] offers an example, in that it takes different forms at different times. Sporting masculinity has often involved muscularity, a lack of sentiment, acceptance of pain, and being able to hold your drink. It may be the case that media images in the 1980s particularly emphasised male sexuality as well -- as in films such as 'Terminator, Top Gun, Blade Runner, and cyborg movies' (256) [rather an odd collection here, though -- rather vulnerable masculinity depicted in the last two, I would have thought]. Maybe seeing the emergence of 'retributive man', who wants to 'reassert a traditional masculinity... [confronting]... dishonourable feminised men' (256). An example would be Vinnie Jones's celebration of hard men on the soccer pitch, or the early condemnation of David Beckham whose manliness was questioned in the press. [Whannel suggests that this lay behind the apparently technical criticism of Beckham's play -- Batty played as badly, but was not heavily criticised].
'New laddism' has been defended as 'a form of post-modern irony', but it really represents a reconstructed form of masculinity before feminism, complete with 'masculine fears of the female "other", masquerading as desire' (257). There have also been an number of news stories about sporting stars behaving violently towards women in their private lives. These stories may also bear themes that involve the power of men over women, and the declining power of sports stars. They are also media stars, and therefore subject to media representation and narrativization. The media subjects them to 'multiple discourses; the focal point of utterances about moralities, masculinities, sporting ethics, national prestige, and so on' (258).
Male sports stars can therefore provide useful 'points of condensation around which discourses of masculinity and morality coalesce' (258). The media commonly construct narratives as a part of popular discourse, sometimes including a sense of the heroic. Sport has an in-built narrative centred on competition and winning. However, sports stars are also narrativized, and in the process turned into familiar media figures. This process tells us a lot about ideologies about masculinity and how it is linked to morality and national identity.
There seem to be several standard structured elements: 'Flamboyance and aggression, individualism, idiosyncrasy and unpredictability, the loss and recovery of magical powers, and vulnerability' (259). [examples follow, including those from biographies and press profiles -- strangely, no actual television commentary]. Stories can be woven around these themes, such as how individual geniuses conflict with authority, rely on personal aggression and real manliness, lose their magical powers and go on a quest to regain them, and so on. Heroes can be depicted in their full complexity, which can include 'occasional failure, propensity sometimes to be the villain, or an element of self destructiveness' (260). Media coverage has become much more prominent and intense, and possibly less tolerant, although still 'highly pragmatic... Gascoigne retained his England place after beating up Sheryl', but lost his place by compromising his fitness with booze and food (261).
There are other contradictions. New laddism's traditional masculinity includes 'a reassertion of hedonism against the fitness chic gym culture' of the 1980s (261). Bad behaviour similarly has also led to condemnation, and even a suggestion that sport is responsible, especially among the 'moral authoritarian paternalists of the right-wing press, and the new athleticist puritans' (261). Masculine individualism has also come under threat from the modern requirements for disciplined practice and close supervision. Whereas classic masculine individualism excludes females, the 'new corporate paternalism' encourages marriage and stable relationships (262). Of course, the classic distinction between good [marriageable] and bad [available] women is at work here.
The 1998 World Cup coverage showed some of these tensions. Late night laddish drinking of some of the players was condemned as 'dysfunctional, against the national interest' in sporting success (262). The result was to pressure the manager to drop the laddish Gascoigne, heavily criticise the indisciplined and emasculated Beckham, and install Owen as the best representative of 'a recomposed masculinity, traditional but disciplined, respectable rather than rough, hard but controlled, firm but fair', which became the dominant form.
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