Sports, and Men’s Emotions

Non-sports-watchers often wonder why so many men watch sports with such regularity. There are a myriad of reasons. Many men feel that their lives have become predictable, boring, and taken over by male oppression. Sports offer action, live theater, and the excitement of not knowing what will happen. Viewers say that they “get to be distracted from life,” they get to take a break, and that it is the only space for them. In watching their hometown team play, men feel pride, and old and current feelings of connection.

One aspect that gets overlooked is the emotion displayed. There are few spaces in our culture where it’s acceptable for men to show emotion. Sports are the only one I can think of. Male viewers get to see the physical affection between teammates and from coaches to players. To watch other men cry and hug in despair, heartbreak, disappointment, or disbelief is relieving to them. It gives them the space to feel those emotions, too, even if not outwardly. They also get to see men be happy and openly celebrate together. Have you ever been at a supermarket or a party and seen men linked arm-in-arm like the players on the bench during a tight basketball game? Where else besides sports do you regularly see men jump for joy into one another’s arms?

A friend of mine said that the only time he ever saw his father cry was when his father’s favorite team narrowly lost a championship series. Being that close to victory after years of not winning pushed him to release years of disappointments and sadness—which of course were about more than his favorite team losing. It was a powerful, memorable, and touching moment for my friend. He felt closer to his dad than before. It made his dad seem more human and accessible to him.

Many men have dozens of fond memories of closeness around sports. Sports can remind men of past connections and allow them to easily connect with people in the present. Many times after a big game, I have been on the train or walking in town and some unknown man has said to me, “Hey, did ‘we’ win?” This often leads to immediate connection and bonding.

I am middle class, and I often watch games with two older working-class male friends. We use that excuse to spend time together, check in about our lives, and support one another. They have become central in my life. I am close to both of them, and we openly care about each other. Without sports, this important connection would not have been made so easily, if at all.

It may seem a shame that men choose sports or only have sports for this, but at least they have them. Sadly, for many men sports are the one place that they feel is their own. Men will create a room in their house, sometimes called a “man cave,” that the rest of the family understands is their special place to watch sporting events.

Baby boys are held less than girls. Seconds after they get hurt, boys are told that it’s “okay” and that they should tough it out and be a “little man.” We men are trained to win, be tough, be better than others, and believe that it’s okay to sacrifice ourselves for some larger “good.” Certainly sports are a big part of our male training and oppression. It’s notable that in this most “manly” arena—the world of sports—men are given the most space to show emotion.

Many of us are trying to make sports be about play, fun, and connection. We want to take the emphasis off of winning but keep sports as a place where men can link arms, jump for joy, and cry together. We can get there. Until we do, realize that the next time a male partner, friend, or child wants to watch a game, it is not all negative. There are many great reasons for him to want to do so. It may be the only place he will see a boy or man cry.

There have recently been conversations in the U.S. media about the severe, long-term emotional and physical effects of the violence of U.S. football. This is long overdue and a great relief to me. Any sport in which the intent is to physically hurt an opponent is not okay. As more and more men talk of their hurts and pain, U.S. football will have to change, or it could end one day. There have also been some conversations in the media about men’s oppression. We can all Co-Counsel, connect with our friends, and add to these conversations. It is a great opportunity to raise awareness of men’s oppression and work toward a society that will one day be free of it.

Ken Sazama
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00