Sports and the Masks of Men

My life through college revolved around sports: basketball and football as a young lad, football through high school into college, then ending with rugby. As a male, sports can have an unusual allurement and effect on the way we see ourselves. The cultural fascination coupled with the deep desire to compete and win can twist sports into a breeding ground for barbarians. Because we are bigger, faster or stronger, we feel like we are better, more valuable, invincible. We begin to treat the “smaller, slower, weaker” men as less…a type of inferior person with less worth. We craft an image of what a man should be – a barbarian conquering women, money, sports, power, etc. It is life that draws so many men. It is a life that harms so many men.

The problem, well one of them, with this is the shallow shell it creates over a man. His sense of self is weak and fragile – meaning it has no real root and can change instantly. With one injury, one mishap, it is all over. No longer am I bigger, faster, stronger. “But if I am not those things, what am I. Surely I am not the smaller, slower, weaker man?” And we struggle. The mask has been removed, and I know not who I am.

On the flip side, for those men who never excelled at sports, the shell it creates can be equally damaging. We try to emulate the barbarians, becoming, possibly, someone we actually aren’t. We suffocate anything we think will demonstrate weakness. We, for example, stifle emotions and thereby don’t allow a maturation that is healthy for either vulnerability or the ability to develop intimacy (real intimacy of the heart). We try and try to be in the image of the barbarian, but we eventually are exposed. This whole time, in trying to be someone we weren’t, we now don’t know who we are either. The mask has been removed, and I know not who I am.

Masculinity is an interesting thing. The extreme of the barbarian who cares only about how much money he makes, how many women he can seduce, how many ways he can conquer, is a broken version of a man. It takes the strength he was given by our Lord and turns it into a lie. Sports can contribute greatly to this extreme. It can put a mask on the great athletes among us, from grade school to professionals. In doing that, it also puts a mask on those who didn’t achieve on the field of play.

With so many men wearing masks, the world suffers because the world needs true men, and sports can contribute to the development of true men. A man who knows his strength and his weakness, who is willing to risk failure and grow in the process. A man who is willing to lay his life down for his friends to achieve a good. A man who lives and breathes magnanimity daily. A man whose resilience allows him to carry his cross with joy and surrender. A man who is more in the image of Jesus Christ than the barbarian.

Sports can do a lot of things for people. It is up to us to share the proper vision of sports and how to help it develop the true man…free from any masks.

We are the ones who will influence the children of sports. The young boys trying to hold back every tear, every possible display of weakness, wanting badly to look, already, like a barbarian in the making. We are the ones who might begin to shape the masks of young athletes. We are the ones who have the potential to change this process. It is up to us. It might all depend if we have discovered our own mask and are willing to take it off.

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There is 1 comment so far

  • mark
    3 weeks ago · Reply

    Thomas,

    Great article! So much truth to this. We are rarely taught to submit our lives to Christ and be formed by Him. I think of the recent quote by Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. “To achieve success is to live your life the way God wants you to.” It is not conquering others that makes you successful or manly, it is conquering ourselves (taking our mask off) in and through becoming the person God wants us to become

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