On the Bench: End dangerous masculinity in football

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While male players in many professional sports show sentiment, slaps on the rear ends of fellow players isn’t what I would call affection.

University of Houston football coach, Tom Herman, kisses his players on the cheek before each game. Make no mistake, however, the kisses are given with full consent and the players are not weirded out by it. In fact, many of the players look forward to it.

“A kiss on the cheek is when he shows his love for us. No one here is thinking, ‘oh I shouldn’t let him kiss me.’” Garrett Davis, safety for the University of Houston, said.

As a physically rough sport, it’s rare to see soft and warm displays of affection in football. Both players and fans alike often take the physical brutality of football at face value, and forget the emotions of the players involved. Herman has set out to change that. For the last 10 years, he has been kissing his players on the cheek.

Herman has earned praise from psychologists for his actions.

“He’s disrupting a stereotype about boys and men, a notion of masculinity that says boys and men are only driven by the desire for competition and autonomy,” said Niobe Way, a psychology professor at NYU.

Herman says that the kisses are a part of his plan to treat his players as if they were his own sons.

“I’m a bit confused as to why it’s garnered so much attention … I think most college coaches would tell a young man in recruiting ‘Hey, I’m going to love you’ or ‘treat you like my own son.’”

Herman later detailed his sadness at how uncommon this is.

“They said it was the first time that they’ve ever been kissed by a man. Which is a shame in our society.”

Herman is right. It’s embarrassing that players are ashamed to reveal their emotions for fear of being labeled as less manly, as if they would be deemed weaker for being human.

“Deep Secrets” by Way details the change in relationships between men at different ages. As men get older they tend to avoid emotional intimacy with other men out of fear of being labelled as gay, ending with a “crisis of connection.” Way went on to explain more.

“What we’re driven by is the desire to be in connected communities. That you would funnel this into a connective spirit – that’s the way sports should be played.”

It’s time that football players be allowed to show human emotions. They are not machines let loose on game day to fight the enemy. Sports are about brining different communities of people together to celebrate, and this should be no different on the field. Players should feel free to hug each other and show emotions with no fear. This level of hyper masculinity, often referred to as toxic masculinity, is old fashioned. It’s time we change that. In addition to having coaches who care about the emotional health of their players, we should take action as fans. Being the driving force behind professional sports, it’s our job to show that we care about the players as well, not just their performance on game day. Fans wouldn’t insult a player who hugs his children, so why is it okay for fans to insult a player who cares for his teammates?

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