A little girl trips and falls on the playground. Her dad, worried something will mar her perfect skin, runs over to her, kisses her boo-boo, holds her tight against his chest and whispers that everything will be all right as she wails and wails and wails.
A little boy trips and falls on the playground. His dad walks slowly over to him with a stern look, tells him that big boys don’t cry and orders him to get up.
It’s the culture of our world — girls are allowed to be emotional and cry (OK, bawl) during “The Notebook,” but guys have to be strong and stoic. Essentially, we’ve created a concept where being like Hercules is the ideal.
What we forget about the myth is that Hercules killed his wife and children. We teach boys that they need to be strong, be powerful, be macho, be a real man. Then we’re surprised when this aggression, this anger, manifests itself in our sports? This “macho man” concept translates poorly into the real world.
In the past week and a half, the NFL has seemingly collapsed, largely as a result of men who’ve decided they’re these real tough guys who can do whatever they want, no matter the impact.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is on the hook for allegedly abusing his 4-year-old son by beating him with some kind of switch or a belt. Photos show the child with cuts all over his body. Peterson’s response? A statement from his lawyer read: “Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.”
According to a police report, Peterson allegedly sent a text saying, “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”
I’m sorry, what? The past can’t be used as an excuse for the present. The only way to escape a vicious cycle is to somehow break it. As time goes on, society evolves, and things become unacceptable. Peterson can’t say that because he was spanked, he can beat his kids.
In one of the biggest sports scandals in memory — at least for those of us still 20 or younger — the NFL has finally had to deal with the issue of domestic violence. It’s long been an issue in sports, but a recent incident with Baltimore running back Ray Rice blew the issue up until the issue was on a continuous loop on major networks.
After the video of the Rice incident leaked, people tried to defend him by saying his wife hit him, too. Sure. She did. The only problem? In a football game, Rice gets pounded on by 300-pound linemen. A jab from his then-fiance, a tiny woman who is now his wife, must have felt like a tap. Rice got angry, knocked his loved one out and acted nonchalantly in the aftermath. Then, the way the scandal was originally handled, it seemed Rice would get nothing more than a slap on the wrist. If that’s the case, why should these guys care? Why should this macho culture disappear?
The good thing is that if you compare today to the ’60s, things are getting better. I’ve always liked the Churchill line about something how we may not be at the beginning of the end, but at least we’re at the end of the beginning. I’m hopeful that this is the case with the overly macho culture and violence by idiot football players.
All sports have seemed to calm a bit. If you ever go back and watch tape of the Steel Curtain, the 1985 Bears, the Purple People Eaters, you’ll see that those guys were insane. They got away with just about anything, including punching each other or just throwing opposing players to the ground. In baseball, plays at the plate have been tamed. In the 1970 All Star game, Pete Rose violently collided with catcher Ray Fosse in a move that looked straight out of a football game. Now, such collisions are outlawed. Concussions and other injuries are finally being policed in football and other sports.
Violence will never totally leave sports, but we need to keep heading toward sanity. As a writer, the only real thing I can do is promise to avoid words like “slaughtered” or “killed” in anything I write. And as a woman, I can promise that, if I ever have a boy, I’m going to tell him that it’s OK to cry.
Column originally appeared in The Daily Californian.