The Myth of the Sexual Athlete

March 1, 2012 § 7 Comments

I grew up & went to school in a small town in Indiana.  My graduating class numbered 104 and had very little diversity within it.  With that being said, I believe my school thrived on “the norm.”  For example, the cheerleaders and jocks were always considered to be the most popular people in school (Class president, Homecoming Court, Prom King & Queen, etc) and everyone else fell below them in ranking.  There were the band kids, the art kids, the video game kids…all of the typical cliques that one finds in a stereotypical high school.  Part of why I found Don Sabo’s essay, “The Myth of the Sexual Athlete,” to be so interesting is because the situations he describes were typical at my school.

The more I reminisced, I recalled how differently female athletes and male athletes were treated in high school.  The “popular guys” were popular because they played football and basketball, two very important sports for my town.  Yet the female athletes rarely managed to make it into the popular crowd.  One exception came with a few members of the volleyball team because the jocks declared which girls looked the “hottest” in their tiny spandex shorts.  But as I was saying, not many of the female athletes reached the popularity that the males did.  There were quite a few times when the women’s team won more games or advanced further in a tourney than the men’s team, but that did nothing to elevate their popularity status.  Also, the female athletes were not sexualized like the cheerleaders were.  The jocks would always joke with a certain female basketball player, treating her as if she were one of them, “just one of the guys.”  They assumed that just because a woman was playing a sport, that meant she must be masculine and therefore they would joke around with her instead of flirting.  Off the court and in the halls, many of the female athletes wore makeup and feminine clothing but that didn’t change the jocks’ perception of them.  In their eyes, as male athletes,  it was completely normal and expected to be almost hyper-sexual but it was not the same for the female athletes.

I agree with Sabo when he says, “What they think they want rarely coincides with what they need” (282) and I hope that more men will allow themselves to open up and realize this.


§ 7 Responses to The Myth of the Sexual Athlete

  • boilerup0924 says:

    Yes I agree that every high school has there typical stereotypes like you named, unless it is a single gendered one. But within that the females and males are depicted in different ways and many people see them as either too much of a “jock” or too “manly.” Why do you think that females who participate in sports, other than gymnastics or cheerleading are perceived as masculine or not as “girly” as the next girl, even if they dress and behave the same?

  • jyevcak says:

    I think that the perception of female athletes as masculine or not as “girly” comes from long-held assumptions and stereotypes that people are not willing to let go of. The assumption is that the sports belong to men and should be played by men, so therefore any challenge to this “norm” is unacceptable. If a woman wants to play sports, then surely (this is the hypothetical societal view) she must have inherent masculine qualities and a lack of femininity, regardless of her actual physical appearance. Society won’t let her simply be a woman who wants to play sports.

  • erikaostrom says:

    I agree with you in some ways but disagree in others. I went to a large school with 4,000 students and the sport teams were very competitive to make. I saw that the girls who played more of the “boy sports” got attention from the guys and would treat them as if they were one of the guys. But the cheerleaders were very good at my school winning state and all other competition. It was considered a sport and the guys would treat them as if they were up to their “standards” of playing a sport and that cheerleading was considered a sport. I do agree though that the appearance of the girls who played the more male directed sports were not as girly or sexual as the girls who were cheerleaders. But in other cases there were girls that were sexual and had a girly appearance on the sports teams. There are many stereotypes that are displayed in a high school setting and I believe this essay and your post bring out the main focus of the stereotypes and how the different people are treated.

  • jyevcak says:

    I can see why you disagree. I think everyone probably experienced high school a little differently. Our school didn’t have a gymnastics program and the cheerleaders didn’t attend competitions, so I think that could be a factor in whether or not it was considered a sport. However, I think the most important thing is recognizing the stereotypes and what effects they may have on students.

  • stephoa says:

    I too experienced high school a little differently. In my school, anyone who is good enough to play sports with the boys are popular. The cheerleaders in my school weren’t as popular as the girl’s basketball or volleyball team. I never really noticed a big hierarchy amongst friends in my school years, but that might just be me being oblivious. But to address what you said about a little masculinity turning guys off, I agree that that is true. If you’re tall, muscular, rough… just a little too much for an average girl’s standards, you’re not their type. And if guys did happen to date such girls, they get teased about being gay and liking men.

  • futurepublicist2013 says:

    My high school was much bigger but yet still in a town and we also had the same popularity levels that you described to experience but the difference was the extent of the levels. The high school life that you described reminded me of a movie or like Disney high school musical. My high school was more like everyone were friends with each other but the athletes and cheerleaders were the ones always looked at.

  • boilerbballfan says:

    I agree with you that the most popular kids in high school were often the football and basketball players. They were chased after by many of the girls in the school. On the other hand, in my high school, the female athletes were also the most popular girls. The men’s athletic teams rated the women’s athletic teams, and volleyball was always the “hottest” women’s team, because the girls wore spandex. I remember this always making me mad, not because I wanted soccer to be have the hottest athletes, but because even in sports boys could not take girls seriously. I remember being told by one of my best friends, who I constantly invited to watch our games, that if the soccer players wore smaller clothes, more guys would come watch them play. From my experience, the guys wanted the girls to come to their football, baseball, or basketball games to support and cheer for them. However, the guys only expected to go to games if the girls playing in them were hot.

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