A friend of mine used to tell a story about an experience he had at his small town high school in the Texas Panhandle. An avid tennis player, he went to the powers that be at his school and asked if he could form a tennis club. Sure, go ahead. Why not?
At first, things went well. Membership in the tennis club grew steadily. Then things went too well. Football players were dropping out in favor of the tennis club. So the powers that be changed their minds, and the tennis club was deep-sixed.
It is a curious paradox. In academic environments, where toxic masculinity is routinely excoriated, why is football, the ultimate contact sport – and arguably the most “toxic” sport – sacrosanct?
Well, the short answer is that it brings in more revenue than other sports, but there’s more to it than that.
Consider the town of McKinney, a fast-growing suburb north of Dallas. Taxpayers there just coughed up $70 million for a 12,000-seat stadium for the local high school football team. Apparently the town came down with a bad case of stadium envy after the neighboring suburb of Allen spent $60 million for their stadium a few years ago.
These communities, though affluent, would never undertake such a building program if they couldn’t count on a critical mass of adolescent males going out for football year after year. So the ultimate question is why are so many young men so eager to participate in this sport?
There are a number of reasons why tennis is preferable to football. For one thing, you don’t have to don all that gladiatorial armor. For another, tennis is a sport you can play, at some level, for the rest of your life. It’s not terribly unusual to see graybeards running around on a tennis court. As for football…no sport for old men.
Then there’s the injury thing. Oh, if you spend too much time wielding a racquet, you might get tennis elbow, but you don’t have to worry about brain damage or ending up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.
And if you play tennis, you probably won’t have to deal with a hypertensive coach channeling R. Lee Ermey. At many high schools, the football coach occupies an exalted status, which may explain why so many young men are willing to abase themselves in his presence.
For example, in Texas we used to have a tradition in August when one or more high school football players would drop dead from dehydration or heat exhaustion during pre-season practice. Some coaches felt that if you took a break to get a drink of water it was a sign of weakness. Had these players been POWs, the Geneva Convention would have been invoked. “Walk it off, son, walk it off,” is no defense.
Going out for football is almost like volunteering to be a crash test dummy. Normally, if you engage in self-mutilation, you will be sent to a shrink; if you play football, you will be applauded and cheered, especially if they carry you off the field on a stretcher. What better way for a young man to demonstrate male disposability!
Tennis, however, has one big disadvantage. It is not a team sport! You can’t teach a young man teamwork if he’s not on a team. You know about teamwork, don’t you? That’s when some other guy gets the glory while you labor in obscurity. But you’re both wearing the same uniform so you must be on the same team, right? Well, a scrub team grunt and the starting quarterback might be on the same team, but they are in different leagues.
You say you’re not athletically inclined? The consolation prize is you can always join the school band. Yeah, I know, they let girls play in the band too, so it’s not quite as big a deal. But you get to parade on the field at halftime and you get to wear a uniform, so you’re on the team too…kinda…sorta. And you don’t even have to be much of a musician.
While football assigns a young man a cubicle in the collective, it also teaches him to accept the inevitability of authority. The head coach is the dictator, the assistant coaches are the commissars. If they assign you to one position and you would rather play another, too bad. If you are tired of sitting on the bench and want to get out there and play, too bad. You may not be happy about the decisions made by those in authority but there’s nothing you can do about it. Is that superb preparation for modern society or what?
Football is perhaps the ultimate collective sport. If not for the numbers on their backs, young men covered from head to toe in helmets, pads, and uniforms would be as difficult to recognize as women in burkas. Even parents are hard-pressed to recognize their sons on the sidelines.
Of course, high schools just don’t have enough room on the football rosters to accommodate every male student. But they can play other sports, can’t they? Well, they can, but it’s not the same thing.
What makes football different from other team sports is the old “it will make a man out of you” theme. In days of old, one could come right out and say that; today it’s sub rosa. Other team sports, such as soccer, basketball, or baseball, are OK, but no one asserts they will make a man out of you. After all, even girls play soccer, basketball, and baseball (well, softball). But girls don’t play football!
Athletic competition goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks, but organized sports leagues are a relatively new phenomenon in civilization. The sociobiological take on them is they provide an arena for a ritualized form of aggression. Think of tribal warfare without spears.
So how did boys become men before football was invented? Playing games was a leisure activity at best. You could go your entire life without ever playing any kind of sport and no one would question your manhood.
Of course, the military was usually the go-to institution for that making-a- man-out-of-you thing. But high school football works pretty good for the under-18 set. It’s not a bad warm-up for anyone planning to enlist after graduation.
That’s why we can’t allow our young men to waste time on tennis. Sure, it’s a highly skilled athletic pursuit but it won’t teach you to accept your place in the collective. On the tennis court, you’re on your own. No one is going to sub for you. You alone are competing, you are not part of a team. You don’t get to wear a uniform! You won’t be assigned a number! You will never be asked to take one for the team!
To some degree, the word is out about concussions, and some boys (and parents) are having second thoughts about playing football. Yet filling out rosters hasn’t been a problem so far. How can that be?
Well, there is one important factor at work we have yet to mention. Yes, once again, gynocentrism rears its ugly head. And this time it’s wearing a football helmet.
Consider the following song, written in 1933:
You got to be a football hero
To get along with the beautiful girls
You got to be a touchdown-getter, you bet
If you want to get somebody to pet
The fact that you are rich or handsome
Won’t get you anything in curls
You got to be a football hero
To get along with the beautiful
Along with the beautiful
Along with the beautiful
Along with the beautiful girls
Yeah, guys, you could get a perfect score on the SAT, a blue ribbon at the science fair, or a full scholarship to Stanford, but that won’t enable you to sleep with “the beautiful girls.” You have to be a football hero to ensure that your genes will mingle with good stock.
Certainly if the MGTOW movement ever catches on in high schools, the football programs will be endangered. If we ever get to the point where those roster spots can’t be filled and those expensive football stadiums have too many empty seats, rest assured that shaming will make a comeback. Boys who shun football may even inspire the return of the once- popular refrain:
“You’re not a fag, are you?”