On Wednesday, the network announced that they had approved a pro-life commercial starring Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, funded by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, to air during the game. "CBS’s recent decision to air an anti-choice advertisement during Super Bowl XLIV was outrageous,” a rep from advocacy group The Women’s Media Center said. “Even worse is the network’s about face from its own policy of rejecting controversial Super Bowl ads. CBS is reportedly standing by their decision, and producers said they would consider accepting any other "responsibly produced" advocacy ads for broadcast.[youtubevid id="diwAXZPuLBc"] Okay, so let me get this straight. Superbowl, the ubericon of sporting masculinity, is good with political messages about abortion, but a completely commercial enterprise selling dating services is not suitable? That's so gay... Not. That's because football, like male sporting culture more generally, is founded in an insecure masculinity that requires both gender differentiation (men are different from women) and a heterosexuality based on proper gender performance. In other words, not only can men prove they are men by running around in super tight pants and jumping on each other, they can also prove they are straight. In order to understand such a seemingly paradoxical set of relations, it's useful to think about when and why sports appeared as a central part of American culture and why. Sports (as we understand them today) began in the late 1800s as part of a movement known as "muscular Christianity." The movement was an attempt to turn middle class men, men who no longer performed manual labor of any sort, into fit and athletic bodies. Think the YMCA movement, or Teddy Roosevelt, who once said:
I believe in rough, manly sports."The reasons muscular Christianity became a movement are a complex and heady mix of sex, race, class and gender- the sort of historical event we academics like to say is "overburdened with significance." The rising middle classes constructed highly differentiated gender roles- men were rational and in the public sphere; women were emotional, irrational, and "angels of the home." This gender differentiation showed the "racial superiority" of both whites over nonwhites- but particularly of middle class whites over everyone- including upper class whites (where men were like women because they did not "work") and working class whites (where women were like men because they did work) Sex got mixed up into sporting men and fainting women because not only were color and class lines being drawn at this historical moment, but so was the line between straight and gay. Straight men were those who were "manly" and homosexual men were those who were not. What better way to prove your manliness than to run around in little pants after a ball patting your fellow men on the butt? Of course, we are no longer Victorians and the clearly homoerotic longings of football are utilized in all sorts of interesting ways. Including to sell a gay dating site. But if CBS doesn't hold the line and keep football about making men manly and therefore straight and keeping women in their place (pregnant? with no choice), well, what's next? The collapse of the bourgeoisie and all the class, race, gender, and sexuality lines drawn by it? No, better to bite the bullet and fight the good fight and continue to believe, as Teddy Roosevelt told us, in rough and manly sports.