In December of 2017, I wrote a blog about former Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford getting criticized by a Boston sports radio talk show host for taking time off from the Celtics to celebrate the birth of his second child. There were some "guys have to forsake everything for the team" and "glory of the game" messaging in his commentary. The host even called Horford soft for not putting winning over everything. A football player, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, recently received flack for making a choice similar to Horford's.
Following a season when Jacksonville almost advanced to the Superbowl, Ramsey decided to miss the start of the Jaguars training camp due to the birth of his child. A Twitter post citing Ramsey missing the start of training camp read, "you would be the first NFL player to hold out for maternity leave," with a sarcastic looking emoji giving side-eye for emphasis. This post reminded me a lot of the radio host who called out Horford: the snarky emoji along with the maternity leave comment is essentially the same insult. Ramsey is being called out for being loving. He is being called out for being like a woman. And, in the minds of some, the worst thing that you can call an All-Pro NFL player is a woman. Both Ramsey and Horford are being attacked for their unwillingness to conform to rigid gender roles. In other words, their manhood was attacked because both are not following the traditional male narrative of work above all else. The underlying messaging is that a real man would have gone to work and let the woman handle that baby stuff because it is not worth his time. A real man does not do women's work because that makes him less of a man. A real man would have been in the game, helping his team, working to win a championship, and chasing rings. A real man would have epitomized Vince Lombardi's famous quote, "winning is the only thing."
Here, two men who have no connection to one another have put forth the narrative that work is more important than family. They were socialized to believe in that norm just like many of us were. But is the argument more nuanced than that? I think it is. What's interesting about social media is that it functions as a permanent record of how one has shown up online. The same man calling out Ramsey made another social media post about his own daughter, writing, "my greatest creation was you...I just want to be the dopest dad alive. The rest of this don't matter." There is a disparity between a man wanting to be the best father to his daughter while mocking another man's choice to be present for the birth of his daughter. That's the challenge, right? How is the societal role I have been cast in and feel pressured to conform to conflicting with the father that I aspire to be? What is fatherhood? How can I be a good father? Is being a good father about just putting bread on the table, or actually sitting at that table when that bread is served. Are men valued for more than the money they bring into the household?
These posts are perfect examples of how sexism hurts men. The rigid gender roles and expectations that undergird sexism lead to a place where men isolate themselves from their families, friends, and personal relationships because we are given the message that work comes before all else. I believe that part of the work that we do as a community to prevent sexual violence involves changing the beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and societal norms that contribute to sexual violence. These societal norms are abundantly clear in the culture around sports. And, here we have two sports figures who are challenged because of their unwillingness to conform to the roles in which they have been cast. Lombardi had it wrong. Winning at sports is not everything. Winning is not the only thing either. Winning means that we have to let men realize the totality of their humanity. We have to celebrate the men that prioritize fatherhood and being present for the birth of their children as well as their childhoods. We would never expect or tell a woman to be at work the next day. We would expect them to spend time with and bond with the baby at the beginning of its life. It is wrong to troll a man for being a father. It makes me sad that we live in a world where cracking jokes about a man for being engaged as a father is an option. We all have to do better. We all have to be better.