Commentary

What's 'manly,' what's not for athletes

Fans bothered by Mark Sanchez's GQ pics, Sergio Romo's leave need to change

Updated: September 10, 2011, 7:36 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

If you're a guy reading this, please humor me for a moment. (If you're a woman, please find a guy and give him the highlights.)

Go to a mirror and ask yourself whether it really bothers you when a male athlete, such as Jets QB Mark Sanchez, gets attention for being good-looking.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Marc Stamas/Getty ImagesThe camera likes Mark Sanchez. Why should any fans have a problem with that?

Are you all right with a man seeking alimony, a la Landon Donovan?

If you're a San Francisco Giants fan, and your team is fighting for its playoff life, are you ticked off that your setup man, Sergio Romo, took paternity leave during crunch time?

His skipper, Bruce Bochy, said, "He is where he should be."

Do you agree? And if not, why?

Because baseball is more important than family? Taking care of the kids is woman's work?

Last week I wrote a piece looking at the low number of women who have had an opportunity to work the booth during football games. I'm used to reading asinine comments from readers who hide behind the perceived anonymity of the Internet, but even I was shocked at the high level of sexism that kept appearing.

"Women don't tell people about how to play football for the same reason I don't tell people how to give birth," said Fergrat.

"Why aren't more women announcing football? Because they sound awful doing so … it's not natural," claimed Whowatson.

"Where are female football announcers? They're (hopefully) in the kitchen preparing me a sandwich," wrote mrm87.

It was like following Archie Bunker on Twitter.

A large number of the men who commented said they generally don't like having women calling games because they hate the sound of their voices, which could explain the country's high divorce rate or why Playboy is still a top seller.

[+] EnlargeSergio Romo
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesSergio Romo stepped away from the Giants' bullpen for the birth of his child.

In any case, it was clear that despite (or because) of the social changes happening all around, there are still a fair number of men who want or need things like sports to remain as "manly" as possible.

The question is, how are they defining manly?

An ability to bring home the bacon? I think not, considering that over the past 50 years, men's share of the labor force has declined from 70 percent to less than 50 percent.

How a guy dresses? Really?

It's not like Sanchez is the first athlete to do a fashion spread. Tom Brady has done it. So have Reggie Bush and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and a host of other highly talented, highly decorated athletes. Heck, Joe Namath and Walt Frazier were photo icons decades ago. Are all these men "embarrassing," to use Aaron Rodger's word in his ribbing of Sanchez?

Again, I think not. We should just put to rest this teasing-male-athletes-who-do-fashion-shoots thing -- much like fart jokes in movies and men being called "babysitters" when out alone with their kids.

While many women have drastically redefined their image amid new opportunities during the past four decades -- from homemakers to career women -- men continue to be somewhat slothful. Some still appear to be viewing "Married with Children" as a how-to video.

Society has been easier on actors and musicians who push the cultural envelope when it comes to traditional gender roles and appearances, saying they're "creative" or "it's all part of the act."

But when a man we typically admire for his athletic ability chooses to be present for the birth of his child as opposed to helping his team fight for a playoff spot, as Romo did earlier this month, then inconsistent definitions of "manly" become harder to ignore.

[+] EnlargeWalt Frazier
Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty ImagesWalt Frazier has been exhibiting his own style for years.

After all, if it's culturally acceptable for Tiger Woods to be vilified for infidelity, shouldn't we expect supportive men to take paternity leave to be with their wives and children? Especially baseball and basketball players, whose seasons keep them away from their families for long stretches? Is it not hypocritical of us to demand that athletes respect marriage vows and their families, but then not want those athletes to take time off during such an important time? If we don't want boys to be boys, then should there not be mechanisms in place for men to be men?

This leads us back to re-evaluating the definition of manliness -- and manhood -- not just in the abstract sense of the word, but the internal, tangible sense as well.

This is the reason I asked male readers to look in the mirror at the beginning of this piece. Because whether a woman is given the opportunity to call a football game or not, the reality is the guy on Page 94 in the September issue of GQ may very well lead the Jets to the Super Bowl. Judging by the tone of the comments from last week's column and the overlapping discussion of Sanchez, I'm sure a fair number of guys find that idea unnerving.

Not because they hate the Jets, but because it challenges their antiquated view of manhood.

It's hard to say for sure if Romo's brief absence is going to impact the Giants' postseason chances (the season-long lack of offense is much more glaring than any single pitcher's missed games), but what isn't difficult to see are his priorities. He chose family over career, something we're used to seeing women do, but not men. It's weird, I'm sure. But sometimes sports (or at least an individual athlete) is a step ahead of the rest of society when it comes to significant cultural changes.

A redefinition of what is considered manly would be yet another example of that.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

MORE COMMENTARY »

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine