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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chapter 13. I Yam What I Yam

by Bob Andelman

"The traditional campfire for men of the 1970s and '80s is the football game. Football is your little domain, where you can go back and be a man again. That's where we get a release. You put on your team colors, go out and get crazy with your buddies. Want to talk about male bonding? Football is the male experience."
Dan Jiggetts
Former Chicago Bears offensive tackle

Football -- like funny car racing and hardware stores -- is one of those things men can only truly enjoy with other men. Women don't get it and men honestly don't care if they ever do.

"I'm sure it's healthy to have enjoyment away from your wife, have a few beers with your friends," Shawn Cahill says. "On Sundays, in the fall, football is that outlet."

Part of the reason is traditional socialization; sports are for boys, playing house is for girls. That ancient view, of course, predates women athletes such as Manon Rheaume stopping goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning's farm team and Lynette Woodward slamming backboards to the tune of "Sweet Georgia Brown" for the Harlem Globetrotters. And certainly the ranks of women who enjoy watching sports is growing enormously. But it's just these breakthroughs that cause many men to rebel and try to re-fortify the remaining male-only domains against further female incursions.

For their book, Sport, Men and the Gender Order: Critical Feminist Perspectives (Human Kinetics Publishers), sociologists Dr. Don Sabo of D'Youville College and Dr. Michael Messner of the University of Southern California interviewed many former athletes about their subsequent careers in the white collar world. One man wasn't adapting well to his new boss -- a woman. He had never been supervised by a woman in the workplace before and he wasn't handling it well.

"Let me put it this way," the man told Messner. "A woman can do a job as good as I can and maybe even be my boss but I'll be damned if she could go out on the football field and take a hit from Ronnie Lott."

When all else fails, men will still reduce the battle of the sexes to a question of brute force.

"I think that is partly what football does for men today," Messner says. "It provides them with a place even if they can't play football. If you had seen this guy you would have realized he couldn't have taken a hit from Ronnie Lott, either. Nor could most of us. I couldn't and wouldn't want to. A very small proportion of men could actually do that. Symbolically, what that provides to a lot of men in this day and age is a certain kind of symbolic proof that there is this place where men are clearly superior and different from women. Whereas in all other aspects of our lives there are women moving into positions of power and authority."

Jeff Spear, a Los Angeles-based comedy writer for The Tonight Show, admits to letting go a little aggression by watching his Denver Broncos have at it.

"I see Steve Atwater taking some guy out and I react to that," he says. "If it's a really good clean hit you tend to have some feeling for the guy that he just laid out. You have to be very impressed and amazed at the prowess of this huge guy. I'm not delusional that I want to wear a Bronco helmet and bounce off the walls. I'm just more impressed that basically someone can get away with doing that without being arrested."

Men watching games with other men -- and without women -- create a masculine space, not unlike an adolescent's treehouse or fort.

One of the observations that Messner and Sabo make in their book is that during the 1960s and '70s, a lot of men viewed and participated in football as a masculinity ritual. As a cultural spectacle, football somehow reverberated with more traditional notions of what it means to be a man in American society. 

Football players were caricatures of comic book masculinity. They were the guys who succeeded and who got the girls, the guys who literally and symbolically embodied masculine adequacy, bravery, courage, aggression and strength.

Football acted as a passion play for men, but the passions that were being enacted had a lot to do with patriarchal cultural traditions and notions about what makes men and why men are superior to and different from women.

"The socio-cultural backdrop for this was that it was the '60s, where changes in the marketplace in the division of labor between men and women really became noticed," Sabo says. Sabo's specialty is gender relations in sport. "Women participated in the work place; men's roles in families changed. Gender changes had been unfolding since before the turn of the century. But it was in the '60s that we really began to notice the in-your-face changes in men's and women's lives. You had the emergence of the modern women's movement. Women were actively questioning the traditional scripts that patriarchal custom had laid out for them. The cheerleader roles, the wife/mother role, the political subordinate/housemate role. I think men were shaken to a certain extent by the women's movement and intimidated by it. They had no real discussion that enabled them to analyze the changes in their lives that feminism provided for women.

"There was no men's study in the '60s and '70s," Sabo says. "What happened in the '80s however was a shift in the cultural core of meanings inside ritualized football. The shift was from gender images to what I call meritocratic images. In the '60s and '70s, football players carried their image in their bravado and biceps. By the end of the '80s the football image was being carried in $370 Italian leather attache cases that contained the fat contracts that players had gleaned from the business of professional football."

The imagery surrounding male athletes shifted from comic book heroes to million-dollar, muscle-bound dynamos. In the same way that football ritual masked and belied the realities of men's lives in the '60s and '70s, football players got harder while regular guys -- emotionally and interpersonally -- got softer. Football players got richer while many other American men got poorer.

Football as the American Dream Machine for gender or economic images remains constant. But illusions fostered by the game shifted.

That's one of the things we get from entertainment: illusion.
* * * 
Research by University of Northern Colorado students under the tutelage of Dr. George H. Sage confirmed what men already knew: We watch televised sports to hang out with our current friends (and talk about old friends). 

"That is one of the explanations for the success of sports bars," Sage says. "Guys can go with their friends, have a few beers in the presence of a bunch of other guys doing the same thing and watch the games. Or they can have a couple of their friends over to watch."

"I'm sure there is a certain amount of truth in that," Jeff Spear says. "There tends to be a certain . . . I don't want to use the word 'bonding' because it's a dumb '90s term but there's a certain clique you fall into when you are watching football with your friends and it's very easy and it's relaxing."

Bars have carried sporting contests via radio and television since Marconi's day. But sports bars put the two concepts together with Madison Avenue marketing glitz and gee-whiz satellite technology to create multimedia sports menageries. Imagine a place with dueling twin 60-inch projection TVs, dining booths with their own 60-channel sets and more TVs everywhere you look. A red L.E.D. SportsTicker display with the latest news and scores. Attractive women in day-glo, silky short-shorts and suggestive, bodice-gripping T-shirts serving hot and greasy snacks and cold beer. Plus electronic darts, pool, video games and 3-on-3 mini basketball courts.

They're great for making new pals for a few hours.

Action Comics #1 (June 1938). The d├ębut of Sup...
• "We scream and yell for the same things," Barry Dreayer says. "I start conversations in sports bars. We find unbelievable bonds -- a passion for the Raiders or Gators. When that happens, I feel like I'm at a stadium." 

• "We sort of regress a little bit," attorney Eric Berger says, sheepishly.

• "I'm more myself, more vocal with the guys," Atlanta entrepreneur Neil Wiesenfeld says. "We do things, say things guys do. We'll scrutinize every play. Criticize. 'Oh! Why didn't they get open?' We try to be critical; we want our team to do well. 'Third down and short yardage -- wouldn't a screen be great?' We may do that with the women, but we watch our language. You can be a jerk with your friends. When you're with strangers, you're more reserved. When you get with your friends, you're more excited. Most people, by themselves, don't high-five themselves."

Yesterday's ultimate guy-getaway was Hef's castle. But Hef is ready for Social Security. The place to go in the '90s is a sports bar.

"I have noticed that if you are watching football in a group there is a whole lot more talk and noise than if you watch it by yourself," Messner says. "There is obviously drinking with some men -- that might raise the excitement level or just bring down some of their inhibitions -- but my sense is that a lot of men just prefer to watch football games with other men."

Dr. Stanley H. Teitelbaum agrees. "I think a lot of men feel that only another man could really understand the game in depth the way they do," he says. "They might enjoy having the company of their spouses watching the game or going to the game but it is a different thing. It is not the same thing as sharing it with other guys."

Sports and the way men view and talk about sports serves to separate men from women. It functions to exclude women from certain institutions like workplace culture and so forth. Away from stadiums and home perches in front of the TV, males use sports in the office culture as a sort of a bond; sports talk is the glue that holds men together. It's a way that men massage their relationships with each other in workplaces; "lubricate" their relationships might be a better way to put it. Lots of women have experienced this as a way that men exclude them. Whether or not men intend to use that to exclude women, it is experienced by women that way.

Even men who are not hardcore football fans may use pigskin chatter to escape female counterparts in the work place.

Women don't care as much about it as men. Men would be just as willing to watch the game with a woman who was as knowledgeable and involved as they are but that doesn't tend to happen.

Football is a place where men know that they are physically superior to women. But it's also a place where men of all sizes, shapes and physical abilities are basically equal when it comes to sitting and watching a game side-by-side. I'm not going to take a hit from Ronnie Lott but I can be equal to the guy sitting next to me who maybe played a couple of years in college and understand the game as well as he does.

"All men can identify with the men on the field as men," Messner says. "Being knowledgeable about the game as a spectator is a way to get respect among your peers not necessarily having played."
* * * 
Why do men love football over other games?

Strength. Muscle. Brute force. Raw power.

Even if little boys and little girls were socialized in the same way, football is intrinsically a different kind of game in that it takes brute force. It is one of the last areas of American life -- and probably one of the last occupations -- to preclude equal participation by men and women because of how we are socialized as youngsters. The game depends on strength and speed and hormonal advantages that men have and women do not. 

"You have to be 280 to 300 pounds to play offensive line and I don't see 280-pound women to do that," says Dr. Allen L. Sack, a University of New Haven sociology professor and former Notre Dame defensive end. "If they should come along they deserve the right to play but I just don't see it happening. Unless by some miracle of evolutionary mutation women are able to build muscle mass in the same way men can, or if the game is radically altered to permit women to play so that it might become less incredibly wild and winning has to be left dependent upon physical skill, not skill of muscle mass. Football is a throwback. It fits best in a pre-industrial model where physical strength and prowess were that important. As society has changed over hundreds of years there are fewer and fewer areas of our lives that are still dependent on physical force and physical prowess. In most areas men and women can probably compete fairly, equally -- except in the realm of military front lines or in a football game. It will probably one of the last bastions of male dominance." 

The professionals believe football mirrors much of modern American society -- the good, the bad and the ugly. Particularly the ugly. 

Men still dominate most institutions in American society but women have made inroads and many men now work in places where women are peers and even bosses. Some men are threatened by that.

Football provides a sense of clarity about gender. There are fully armored men on a battlefield, fighting over territory like in the good old Dark Ages, using their bodies as weapons to blast other men back. On the sidelines are scantily clad cheerleaders exposed with no armor. On television, the camera cuts back and forth between the battles of the men on the gridiron and the tender, sexual objects on the sideline. 

"It provides a real sense of clarity between what men are and what women are," Messner says. "Women are there for support and sexual distraction and what the men are doing on the field is really the center stage and what really matters and why we are all there." 

TV commercials during football games represent the same imagery, further reinforcing the differences between the brutal and fairer sexes. 

Sack supports Messner's theory. 

"If you brought someone from Europe for a day and you wanted them to get an idea of what American life was all about, the values and the culture, you might just take them to the Super Bowl," Sack suggests. "What would they see there? They would definitely see the role women play. While the main action is taking place on the field with the heroic men, the women are scantily clad, positioned in the background as supporters of the men. And if you look very close and you are very astute you would see that there are very few black coaches, that the entire team is represented by blacks except that the quarterbacks are white and his guards are white. As you move off into the periphery, more and more of the athletes are black and, just like blacks play a peripheral role in industry, law and politics, you are going to see all that reflected in the game."
A foreign visitor would also see the aggressiveness of American society and the fans getting turned on by the violence. Sack says that can be traced to the American frontier.

"Rugged individualism, violence and competitiveness has made us a great nation," he says. "But I think some of that has spilled over into negative qualities, like young men who are taught to never accept no for an answer, and young men who are taught to be incredibly aggressive in football. This is pounded into your head. Never give up. To be a winner, you have to give 110 percent. Never accept the possibility of defeat. Physically push until you dominate the other side. I'd be surprised if this didn't in some cases spill over into male/female relationships."

Young men who are taught to be so aggressive and never take "no" for an answer may not understand the need for sensitivity towards another person, male or female. Sack says that someone trained to never accept "no" for an answer could apply that to social situations. If a woman says "no" to a man conditioned to never accept that word, they could both be in trouble.

"I don't want to lay this mainly on young athletes," Sack says. "Date rape is more universal in its scope. But it is a possibility that the socialization we give to young males through sports like football may lead to a tendency toward what might be perceived as rape. Certainly going a little further than they should go and not listening to someone when they say, 'No, no no! I don't want to do this!'

"If you went into a locker room," he says, "written all over the walls you'd see little things about what it takes to be a real man, disparaging women. When I was playing, if you were not doing well they called you 'pussy' for not hitting hard enough. If you got hit a little late and were not willing to go back and smash somebody in return you were called a 'sissy' a 'woman' or a 'girl.' That has been part of the game."

These are our culture's great motivational tools. And the reason they work is because we still hold up the idea of being violent and aggressive and dominant as the primary values for young males. We hold that to be passive and sensitive, intellectual and introspective is sissy and girlish. So if you take a young man who has been in that kind of environment and attack and accuse him of being less than aggressive, then he is less than a man, less than a human being. It will goad him.

"There was a coach who was sanctioned or reprimanded recently because before a football game in Texas he brought a cow or bull in and castrated it in front of the team," Sack says. "There's all kinds of symbolism there."

It's not like we Americans invented all this. The game seen as the most male-dominated in British society is rugby. The degradation of women is part and parcel of that. "To this day," Sack says, "if you go to a party after a rugby match, there are these lewd post-game singing and male-bonding rituals that they have that are sexually explicit and violent, humiliating and denigrating for women. I never felt football was quite that bad but football does have those kinds of tendencies I think. It is all male."

That's the bad news. The good news is that most of us respond to football because it reinforces our masculinity in healthy ways. It gives us a chance to revert to simpler times when the most important things in life were getting picked first to play football and being home in time for dinner. 

"It's rather interesting," Sabo says. "There is this idea that masculinity has become an imitation without an original. In other words, it's an illusion that doesn't have any base in reality any more, so for many men pursuing or worshipping the cultural icons of masculinity is akin to walking -- with great deliberation -- toward a mirage."

Dubious? According to Sabo, a sporting goods manufacturers association surveyed 20,000 American households in 1991 and found that women had become the leaders in the most popular fitness activities, including aerobic exercise, bicycling, calisthenics, exercise with equipment, walking, running and swimming.

Whereas men are much more publicly and culturally identified with sports and fitness, the reality is that they are less actively involved with fitness activities. And whereas women are more culturally associated and defined as physically passive and less athletically inclined, they are, in fact, more apt to participate in these activities than their male counterpart.
* * *
Men, like women, need connections with other people. We often search for connections that are consistent with our cultural identities. 

Sports tend to celebrate the kinds of ideologies that men grow up with and associate with masculinity. Football emphasizes and celebrates dominant forms of masculinity. It provides men with an activity around which we can relate to other men and in the process celebrate our own commitment to a dominant forms of masculinity.

Sports emerge in ways that reinforce the distribution of power and privilege in a society. Sports take resources in order to be organized and staged. The people who are most likely to have those resources are obviously privileged people within a culture. On a very general level, sports have emerged in ways that reflect the values and experiences of men because men have traditionally controlled resources. Sports, then, reflect the interest of particular groups of men: those with a disproportionate share of economic power.

"The whole notion of sports celebrating kind of a meritocracy as well as masculinity is something that is very important here," Coakley says. "People with power and privilege in this society are very interested in promoting the idea that we live in a meritocracy and that people who are successful got there because they deserve it."

Problems arise because men grow up surrounded and confronted by all these forms of competitive sports but don't raise any kinds of critical questions about them. We just accept them as part of our culture and nature. They're fun, they're entertaining. They're a turn-on. We like them best because we don't have to think much about them.

Football and hockey are seen as men's sports where you take a hit. Soaking up the physical agony of contact sports represents the ultimate in manliness. Playing with pain is encouraged, not chastened. In fact, fans get really obnoxious about players who won't take a hit.

"I remember when I was in college," Dr. Edward R. Hirt says, "Tony Dorsett was in his heyday and a lot of people ragged on him big time, saying he was such a pussy because he ran out of bounds and he would never take a hard hit. In reality, any of us would do the exact same thing. We don't want a 275-pound lineman crashing on us. And we certainly wouldn't want six of them to do it. You'd run out of bounds too, if you weren't going to gain any more than half a yard."

But for some reason football fans all get like that. We really admire the guys who go in a game, hit hard and swallow a hit. If our guys are victims of illegal or late hits, we bully them into fighting. Our guys, if they're real men, won't take any shit off your guys.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Chapter 20. The Man Who Fell to Earth

by Bob Andelman

"I get depressed two weeks after the season is over. I'm a Jets fan. I remember watching games when they were 2-10, sitting in freezing snow. The first game I remember was the Jets winning the Super Bowl. I was 8. I was living in New York at the time. Everywhere you looked, people were talking about it. And Namath made the famous statement guaranteeing victory."
Joe DiRaffaele
Owner, Labor World
Coconut Creek, Florida

Men are bored. Okay, some men are just plain boring, but the fact is that come the weekend, many men's lives are insufferably dull. Ho-hum. Routine. Pass the No-Doz.

Football is a wake-up call for these guys.

Sport sociologists speculate endlessly about the sheer boredom of most men. The boredom and routine, the absence of glamor and excitement in our everyday lives. Football is our chance to almost take on a new identity as the involved fan, imagining participation and feeling the emotion of participation, so there is no question of the emotional charge out of seeing our beloved Vikings win.

This week's Steelers-Browns game may give the average blue-collar worker in the suburbs of Cleveland a reason to slog through another week of going nowhere on his job and enduring the day-in, day-out, hum-drum nature of his family life. For a few hours on Sunday, he'll come alive again, feeling that adrenaline rush the way he did in high school.

The San Francisco 49ers' Super Bowl XXIX troph...Image via Wikipedia

"I not only enjoy it," Eric Berger says, "it gives me some sort of escape from the daily requirements of this and that."

Some men -- like Berger -- may not view their lives as dull at all, but they recognize the need to escape from time to time. They drop out from their routines.

Men's lives are chewed up by work. Football somehow provides us with a space of our own.

Watching football is like going to the gym. It's an area of our lives where we are able to do something for ourselves. A lot of men get into trouble with that, because we resent an intrusion. "What do you mean coming in here in the middle of the game and asking me, 'Who is going to pick Mary up from school tomorrow?' Get out of my face! This is my time and my space."

"For some men," Dr. Don Sabo says, "you might say that football spectatorship is a refuge from the onslaught of work and family responsibility. It's an island of respite. A lot of men really feel disempowered in their lives."

Most people in this example want to escape their workmates, their spouse, their children or their worries for a couple hours. It doesn't mean they don't love their family or they can't face reality. It doesn't mean they're bad people. They just need a break, a time-out from the usual below-the-line stress. Many guys get it from watching football.

"You have, on one hand, people who are seeking rewards and, on the other hand, they are escaping a personal and interpersonal world," Dr. Seppo E. Iso-Ahola says. "When you apply this to the spectator setting, it is an excellent place for these motivational tendencies to take place. Obviously, there are many opportunities for seeking personal rewards. It's an excellent opportunity for people to escape the mundane routines in which they live, especially when you are talking about men. Football is a man's game, a macho game, and it provides an excellent opportunity to escape for a couple of hours."

Iso-Ahola is quick to say that there doesn't necessarily have to be anything bad going on at home or in a marriage for a man to need an NFL break.

"Men often watch football in the company of what they call their best buddies," he says. "They are seeking interpersonal rewards as well. It is interesting at the same time they are avoiding certain types of interpersonal encounters like spouses and workmates they are seeking other types of interpersonal interaction. It is not like they want to be alone. But they want to regulate that social interaction."

Football provides an excellent opportunity, psychologically, for this kind of regulated escape."

Dr. Gregory B. Collins disputes the notion that men, as a rule, are bored. He pins the need for escape more clearly on stress.

"I see a lot of men in my practice and I rarely if ever hear them say that their lives are boring," he says. "I don't think it is a frequent complaint. I hear more about stress or misunderstandings, conflict and that sort of stuff rather than 'boring.' I don't know that football is a major motivator but it fills a void. I see people with all kinds of exciting jobs and they all watch football. It's something that is very broadly appreciated by people with good, exciting jobs by most people's standards and by people with boring jobs. It doesn't seem to matter."

There are certainly a lot of schools of thought concerning the boredom/escapism notion. For instance, healthy, happy people work and play. Sick people work all the time. They are workaholics. Sick people play all the time. They are playboys and playgirls and don't take anything seriously. The happiest people are people that balance their work and their play.

"To a degree," Dr. William J. Beausay says, "when people identify with their team on the weekend, that is a degree of health. When they pay their money and holler and scream, that is cathartic. It vents a lot of internalized aggression and conflict, so that is healthy. The happiest people in the world are people who work at their play and who play at their work. They know what they do each day and what is going to happen. The problem is they can control their play but they can't control their work so, at play, they buy a ticket and they really work at it. They really get into this. They buy the coats, the jackets, the cards and everything. That is healthy."

Beausay says people would be a lot happier and healthier if they played at work and worked at play. He theorizes that if people could really play at their work during the five days of the week, they would spend less time working at their play on the weekend.

"The happiest, healthiest people are the ones who have a balance," he says. "They work at their play and they play at their work. Unfortunately most people are caught in that they work at their play but they can't play at their work. It's a formula and, like algebra, you have to have the equal value on both sides of the equation."

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chapter 21. She's No Woman, She's My Wife

by Bob Andelman

"Why do you bug me during football? Did I bother you during childbirth?"
Tim Taylor
TV Host, "Tool Time"

Mothers. Daughters. Wives. Sisters. Women in-laws.

Perhaps the greatest unspoken reason that men love football is because it gives many of us a few precious, uninterrupted hours away from those wonderful women in our lives.

Football presents one of the last great places where men can hide out. It's a game that women are not going to start playing any time soon and that few women care to attend in person, so men can still be men and watch the games, hootin' and hollerin' and behaving like jerks. Like Three Stooges movies, women just don't get it.

"Has football gotten in the way of relationships? I'm sure it has," Barry Dreayer says. "Past relationships didn't have a clue what was going on, didn't want to to have a clue."

Love 'em, hate 'em, can or can't live without 'em, men feel that women often complicate their lives at all the wrong times. Twelve-forty-five on Sunday afternoon is not the time to ask the man in your life to get up and do anything. It is not the time to engage him in deep conversation about Junior's grades or suspicions that Muffy is a lesbian. And it is definitely not the time to complain that he hasn't been showing you enough attention lately. Because for the next 6 hours, it isn't going to get any better.

Some women threaten their husbands with divorce because they can't bear the thought of losing them to football one more week. Some women do more than threaten.

Retired Nabisco Brands sales management executive and Los Angeles Rams superfan Jim Runels decided two could play that game. He divorced his football-hating wife and married a woman who not only tolerates the game but loves it.

"My first wife? I had to sneak off by telling her I was going to play golf," Runels says. "Then I'd go see a football game. I'd come back late and she'd bitch and complain. She'd get mad at me. I'd never hear the end of it. I could never get her to go to a football game."

Runels' home office in Yorba Linda, California, is packed with all manner of Rams paraphernalia -- hats, phones, umbrellas, helmet telephones, directors chairs, pins, cards. "Plus I have jerseys -- Bob Waterfield's No. 7 with my name on the back!" he says. "My first wife, I could never get through the front door with this stuff. When I met my second wife, Marge, I made it clear I was a Rams fan. I sent her a Rams card and she sent me back a Rams magnet and a note that said, 'See? I'm a Rams fan, too!' We clicked."

The new Mr. & Mrs. Runels -- members of the Rambassadors fan club -- make annual sojourns to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl and have even been to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

The day before he got married, Joe DiRaffaele, owner of Labor World, a Coconut Creek, Florida, chain of temporary help services, told his bride there were a few things about him that she needed to know.

"One day, I'm moving back to New York," he said. "And Saturdays, I watch football. And Sundays, I watch football. I don't go out."

She knew what she was getting into, DiRaffaele felt. "You know how things change when you got married and have kids? She had to understand."

Then, an amazing thing happened. One day, Kim turned to her husband and said, "You have to teach me about football." And she got into it. One Monday night, the Dolphins were playing the Jets and Joe set the VCR to tape the game while he was out. "But my wife watched it," he says. "When I got home she said, 'The Jets really got hosed.' " Joe decided right then and there that he was a lucky man, married to a rare woman.

Time passed and the DiRaffaeles' daughter was born, on a Saturday. Joe, of course, was watching college football at the time.

"Every time football is on, my daughter watches," DiRaffaele says. "She's 20 months old. I call 'Touchdown' and she does the referee's touchdown signal. She does clipping -- she bends and puts her hand behind her knee. When commercials come on, she walks away. I guess she likes the action of it. My wife has a black shirt with Joe Montana on it going back to pass. My daughter points to it and says, 'Football!' We're a football family."

Ralph Weisbeck's wife likes football, too, but she doesn't watch many games.

"She gets too excited," Weisbeck says, laughing. "She only comes in if we're three touchdowns ahead. She won't watch the game from the beginning; she's afraid they're going to lose. She can't stand losing."

Modern women discover a number of ways to cope with their men on NFL Sundays. They:

• Leave for a few hours.

• Stay, bitch and moan.

• Learn the game.

The rest of Why Men Love Football might be subtitled And The Women Who Want to Kill Them as we suggest possible responses for women struggling with man who plan to watch football come what may.

In the Berger household, Eric's love of football led to separate TVs and separate activities on Sunday. "My wife doesn't get into sports," he says, "but she tolerates it because she knows it's important to me. She knew how it was when we got married and it's not going to change."

Women often feel that football transforms their men into spectators in their own lives. They're probably right. But as one wife put it, "Football keeps him home. It's a hobby. My women friends say, 'Thank God he has something to keep him busy.' "

The same woman almost divorced her husband when he lost his job and filled his days as commissioner of a fantasy football league. They worked that out, but she became a staunch advocate of being anywhere but the living room when her husband pitches camp to watch football. She has no interest in the game. Rather than pouting and tapping her foot, waiting an eternity for the game to end, she'll go out with other disaffected women. Or she'll tackle paperwork brought home from the office.

w:Joe Montana on the set of an w:ESPN broadcast.Image via Wikipedia

Dr. Seppo E. Iso-Ahola says women should accept football as part of their man's behavior. "If you start arguing with that, especially if it's with somebody highly, psychologically invested in football, that is only going to lead to problems," he says. "It is much easier to accept that and say, 'Okay, my husband or boyfriend likes that and chose that and I accept that.' That doesn't cause problems."

"I think each person should have a parallel life," Dr. John M. Silva says. "If I'm going to sit at home all afternoon and watch TV, I shouldn't hold my wife prisoner and make her watch TV. If she wants to go out and tend the garden or go shopping, I think it's important for two things to go on. One, that the woman develops some appreciation for the interests of her spouse, and two, that they also have enough independence in their relationship that they can pursue some separate interests."

There's another good reason for women to flee on NFL Sundays. If they stay, men may expect to be waited on.

A lot of husbands want their wives nearby, even if they are not watching the game. They want them in the house to serve them, answer the phone, keep the kids quiet, get the beer and run to 7-Eleven for more when it runs out.

Hey, doll! We're out of pretzels! Are those nachos ready yet? How 'bout some beer!

"I can see the argument or displeasure with each other," Dr. Bruce C. Ogilvie says. "What can you tell women? Have a women's Sunday, doing things that please them. Leave the home scene because you are not going to change these apes. Do something that brings you pleasure. Be selfish. Go out and do something very, very selfish so you come home and feel totally good about what you have done."

Dr. Stanley H. Teitelbaum recommends that women construct more of a life of their own and develop independent interests so that while their man watches the game, they can do something besides family chores.

"There are couples who can do that," he says, "but there is also a risk, too, because the more people do that then the more they go their separate ways. After a while comes into play new questions: 'How much do they really need each other? How much do they really have with each other? Would they rather go separate ways and get involved in their separate activities and interests or do they really have shared interests and things in common? Do they really want to be together?' Going their own way is okay on Sunday if it's really important to him or on Saturday to watch the game. She can make that accommodation and do other things provided that there are enough other times in the course of their week that they have more mutuality, togetherness and harmony. In that scenario, the relationship probably can work."

Women can find themselves in a no-win predicament if their husbands and boyfriends don't take pains to understand the potential for conflict on Sundays. It doesn't speak well for the survival of these relationships if, to survive, a power game develops in which the husband/boyfriend is in control of the relationship and dictates, "This is what I want to do and this is what I like. Either fit in, go along with it or don't."

Every woman has her own way of dealing with separation anxiety on game day.

Chicago Bear Report managing editor Larry Mayer's second date with the woman he eventually married was at the Bears' 1987 season opener, a Monday night game versus the New York Giants. The Bears won the two previous Super Bowls and Mayer couldn't think of a more exciting place to be. His future bride didn't let on at the time than any place else would have been more exciting to her.

"My wife hates sports," Mayer says. "She was just being polite. She can't stand sports. She only travels on the road with me because the Bears play in good cities. In Tampa, she goes to the mall across the street from the stadium. In New Orleans, she brings a paperback to read in the stadium."

* * *

Railing about a toilet seat perpetually left up would probably prove less aggravating and more constructive than trying to talk a man out of watching football on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

"If a woman asks her husband to do things other than watch football, he won't find that acceptable. That can very easily lead to arguments," Iso-Ahola says. "In that context, I can see why violence would happen. These males are very highly invested, psychologically, in this game. Their tolerance level for other things is low. There is psychological data that has shown that when we watch or observe somebody else perform aggressively then our own behavior tends to become aggressive as well.

Therefore when these men are watching football -- an aggressive and violent sport -- their feeling of hostility in general tends to significantly increase. If you have an opportunity or situation at home that lends itself to arguments, then it is easier for the man who is already aggressively aroused, or in a hostile mood, to act."

The expression "football widow" refers to spouses of football fans who become invisible to their families from October to January. If yours is a busy family, working all week or busy with the kids, there is the expectation -- not unfairly -- that on Sunday you'll have some time together. But if the guy is more excited and interested in watching the game on TV than in having an outing with his family, he better expect trouble.

In that kind of stereotypical situation, a wife may feel aggrieved and neglected, that "This is our one day to really be together and go out, but you'd rather sit by the tube and watch football! You'd rather be married to football than me!" The husband retaliates: "Hey, I've worked hard and busted my butt all week. Finally, I have a chance to relax, drink a few beers and enjoy the game. But you won't give me space and the room to relax." He feels nagged and a mutual resentment builds.

One of the things that tends to help women a lot is trying to understand not only their own point of view but to get in the other person's shoes. One of the ways couples can do this is to switch roles. Stand back from being so hot under the collar and role-play with each other, assuming the other person's lines. Have a dialogue with the man expressing the views that he thinks the woman has and the woman expressing the views that she thinks the man has. If they can do that, they are in a position to better understand how the other one feels. Once there is greater appreciation for that, there is more of a foundation for negotiation.

Smart, experienced couples don't wait for NFL Sunday to arrive. They anticipate it before it happens, negotiate their needs ahead of time and trade off. "This Sunday, I'm going to watch the 49ers game and next Sunday we are going to do something else together." Or they'll structure Sunday so that at 4 p.m. she knows he is going to be watching the game. "I'm going to be watching the game but let's do something together in the morning and the afternoon before 4."

Dr. Michael Messner says discussion in social science circles about the viewing of violent sports revolves around whether it is something that helps men blow off steam or something that makes men more aggressive and prone to violence. Most of the evidence compiled by psychologists suggests the latter.

"Viewing aggressive and violent sports like boxing or football is more likely to de-sensitize men to violence and victims of violence," Messner says. "In terms of domestic violence, one of the things that is important to recognize is that when fans identify with teams, half of the fans are losing all the time. So if a man watches an aggressive, violent sport coupled with drinking some alcohol with his friends and his team loses, his aggression and frustration level both simultaneously go up. The tendency, once the game is over, to turn that aggression and frustration on someone close is what explains the fact that women's shelters always report much more activity and business on Super Bowl Sunday. In other parts of the world, during World Cup soccer, the same thing happens."

During the media hype leading up to Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, California in 1993, much was made of a report that Super Bowl Sunday is the busiest day of the year for women's shelters. An author of the report, Garland F. White, a sociologist at Old Dominion University, immediately claimed the report's findings were taken out of context. But many social scientists and psychologists nonetheless believe Super Bowl Sunday is a very dangerous day for women.

Some women want to learn about sports and get involved as much as possible themselves so as not to leave this as some sort of exclusive male territory. Other women do the exact opposite and on football Sundays they take shopping days with their women friends and get out.

"Rather than seeing this as something that women need to respond to," Messner says, "I think it's something that men need to think about and talk to each other about. Not necessarily that we should quit liking or watching sports together but I think we should try to understand the way it is connected to other parts of our lives. What it means to us in terms of our relationships to women. Does watching sports and the way we watch sports contribute to more supportive and intimate and peaceful relations with women? Or does it separate us more and make us more likely to be antagonistic and even violent towards women?

"Those are questions that men need to ask themselves," Messner says. "Until we do, women are going to be left trying to find ways to keep themselves safe rather than participating with us as equals."

A completely different school of thought suggests that women can never fully appreciate the game, no matter how hard they try. It's just not in their makeup.

Dr. William Beausay says that the large majority of women found at football games go there not to watch the game, but to accompany their companion. "I used to know the exact percentage of women who go because they love football -- it was about 8.6 percent," he says. Even that small number was made up of women who liked the sport for its pageantry, the atmosphere, the colors, the music and the spirit, Beausay says.

"They would never say the powerful team or an effective team, a great athletic prowess or winning. Those weren't the reasons. There were usually aesthetic reasons for women," he says.

So, according to his research, most women at football games are there because of their men. If the men didn't go, they wouldn't be found dead there.

"I don't think women are socialized in the same way as men," Dr. D. Stanley Eitzen says. "They are raised in the same type of society but they are raised to be feminine. To be feminine is to not be aggressive and not be dominant and they also don't play football. They haven't had that experience for the most part and, in fact, when it comes to football, they are on the sidelines being the supporters, cheering and all of that kind of thing while men are the doers. I think this represents a very sexist kind of society, but that is, in fact, what we are.

"Many women get into football and enjoy it, too" he says. "I don't think they have the same depth of feeling that men do because we have played it. We understand the intricacies of football and the precision that it takes to really have a play work well as well as the level of aggression. I don't know that women understand that because none of their sports in our society really are that way. They can be a little bit aggressive in field hockey and things like that but it is not the same."

Silva says he's intrigued by the way football coaches encourage their young men to develop aggression to be hitters, blockers and tacklers, giving rewards for the "best hit of the week." Best hits are bone-crushers, where the opponent who was tackled does not get up for a while. Players gets decal on their helmets for causing that.

"An ex-Denver Bronco told me that every Monday, some people had envelopes in their lockers with money in them," Silva says. "It was for extra hard hits. That's against league rules but it's just part of this macho thing. I said, don't you realize that if every team does that it increases the level of people getting hurt? He said, 'You don't think of it that way. You think of it on an individual basis and you are being rewarded.' Men have been socialized to understand this mentality; I'm not sure very many women do. In many ways women have been robbed because our work world is an aggressive, tough, rock 'em-sock 'em kind of place where men have the advantage of this kind of experience that women don't."

Men get really upset when their mates cannot identify with something that is as crucial to them as football.

"It is important if you can develop some appreciation and some knowledge for the sport," Silva says. "I don't care which way it goes, male/female, female/male. If the wife is interested in some sport, it behooves the husband to develop some interest and vice versa. Some games, I really do enjoy having my wife watch with me.

"I'll say, 'Do you know what happened right there? Do you know what that call was? Why did the team that recovered get to keep the ball?' " he explains. "Sometimes men watch and we know what is going on but our spouses don't. I find that the more I ask questions, the more knowledgeable my wife gets about the sport and the more knowledgeable she gets the more interested she is. One of the reasons a lot of women are not interested is they don't have a full understanding and appreciation. And when they ask a 'stupid' question, especially in front of your friends, they get ridiculed. What is that going to do?"

Some women gravitate to the game and meet with resistance if they get to liking it too much. They start watching it with their boyfriends, husbands or friends but find that men have a really hard time talking to them about it and taking it seriously.

"My sister told me that it took her husband's friends 10 years to accept the fact that she knew as much as they did about the Raiders," Messner says. "They did eventually learn to respect that she knows the game and she is very happy now that occasionally they will even ask for her opinion on something.

They didn't even know how to talk to a woman about those things. There is an assumption among men that women will not be interested, aren't interested and aren't knowledgeable."

That's been Larry Selvin's experience. Sort of. "Either women don't understand the rules or they don't know the players. If they know the rules and a few of the players, they're tolerable," he says.

"Actually, that goes for men or women."

Dan Jiggetts, the former Chicago Bears player turned sportscaster, enjoys talking football with women. "Most guys will seek out a woman that wants to watch a football game with them," he says. "They're very understanding. When you want to sit down and talk strategy, the women listen. They lock in. The guys say they understand, but the strategy goes over their heads. They're watching who gets knocked on their tail."

"My wife is a Cleveland Browns fan," Atlanta management consultant Mark von Dwingelo says. "When we watch games, she occasionally asks, 'Why'd that happen?' Or, 'Why'd they call that penalty?' I appreciate it. It's only annoying if the Browns are playing the Giants. If the Giants are on, she knows the game will only last three hours -- she can hold her questions. She'll say something to me and I'll say, 'Gretch, what am I doing?' And she'll say, 'Okay, I'll ask you later.'"

[Get Copyright Permissions]Copyright 1993 Bob Andelman. Click here for copyright permissions!

Chapter 22. The Post-Game Report

by Bob Andelman

"I'm always interested in the sportscaster who says, 'This is going to be a screen-pass to the right' before it happens. I'm still trying to figure out how they know that."
Bill Evans
Marketing manager
Columbus, Ohio

If this book were a TV show, this would be the place we'd recap the action. Feel free to play along at home.

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 8: Chicago Bears and Ar...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
So, why do men love football?

Action. Crunching bones, banging heads and huge men flying through the air with the greatest of ease. That's what we want to see. Over and over and over again. It's not just a job, it's an adventure.

Violence. The natural hangover from too much action. "Kill him! KILL him!" We don't want anybody to actually die on the field, but would it be so wrong to temporarily disable a few of the other team's guys? At the height of passion, a strong hit in the backfield sends us over the edge.

Skill envy. What's the big deal? Anybody could do that! Yeah, right. In our dreams, maybe we can dodge and weave like Emmitt Smith, sideswipe a quarterback the way Santana Dotson does or throw a Hail, Mary bomb like Warren Moon, but in our waking hours we pray long and hard to be granted such skills. Being a star in business or politics doesn't end our yearning to be football heroes.

Military correlates. In an era of American men with less battlefield experience than any previous generation, football brings us as close to being warriors as we care to be. And for our fathers and grandfathers, it takes them back to what they remember as glorious battles of right over might.

Early socialization. Some of us are so swamped by football images when we're young boys and teens that we couldn't dislike football even if we wanted to. Not that we do.

Community support. Our football team -- high school, college or pro -- represents who we are. The North Brunswick Township (N.J.) High School Raiders carry the pride of that community's residents on their shoulders when they clash with the much hated South Brunswick High School Vikings every Thanksgiving. It's an event that draws disparate elements of the community together for a single reason. Once a year, side-by-side, they raise a paper cup and cheer their sons as one.

Escapism. Every weekend, Saturday and Sunday, we put aside the mundaneness of daily life and commune with men who are bigger than us, stronger and wealthier than us. We forget our problems, our families, our overdue bills, and enter an astral field where nothing matters but winning and cold beer.

Statistics. By carefully tracking the Chicago Bears' winning percentage in games when they're down by a touchdown going into the two-minute warning, we become better people. No, really.

Hero worship. Beyond the art of skill envy lies hero worship, the process through which we identify football players with whom we can identify. We then deify these men beyond all rational thought, putting them upon pillars of righteousness that we then chip away at until their careers go up in smoke. Gotta have heroes.

Male bonding. Five days and six nights out of the week we'd rather be around women. But on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and Monday nights, we'll be hangin' with the fellas, eating fried foods, drinking by the pitcher, screaming language unrepeatable elsewhere and acting like idiots. That's what friendships are made of.

It goes well with beer. And pretzels. Gotta have pretzels.

For women struggling to understand men who sacrifice their lives to football, the best advice is this: hunker down on the couch with your own bowl of pretzels, pop the top on a cold one and get educated.

Ask questions; demand answers. What exactly is the quarterback reaching for when he puts his hands under the center's rear end? Who decides who gets to catch the ball? And what the hell is the referee talking about, anyway?

Get mad when your guys screws up; celebrate when they score. (Think of each touchdown as an orgasm; your enthusiasm, however contrived, will sound more convincing.) Take cheap shots at the announcers, the coaches and the players -- it's expected. Look for some element of the game with which you can connect, even if it's just that beefy running back who looks great in tight pants. Know that it's not just whether you win or lose; it's how you watch the game.

And don't ask for the remote control until the post-game show credits are rolling.

The End.

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