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Maryland Football: A Crisis in Toxic Masculinity in College Athletics (By: Zachary Draves)

We live in a society where we take two steps forward and immediately take five steps back. That is the case with the scandal involving the Maryland Football team. On June 13 of this year, 19 year old Jordan McNair died after being hospitalized for collapsing during a practice on May 29 when conditions were dangerously hot and toxic. His death has unleashed an investigation into the practices of the team’s head coach DJ Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court. Evidently many players, current and former, have described how the coaches have created an environment that is the equivalent of hazing incidents on a college campus. The players would describe incidents such as a player having his plate of food knocked out of his hand, unhealthy eating habits, one player being forced to eat candy bars in front of his teammates in the weight room, and the coaches referring to their players in derogatory terms. Constant ridicule, humiliation, and dehumanization of the players all occurred within the context of a very toxic definition of masculinity. Societal scripts that have been written traditionally defined manhood as being “tough”, “strong”, “aggressive”, and “dominant.” In addition, men are not allowed to express emotion other than anger or intimidation and are not allowed to show any vulnerabilities of any kind to prevent the risk of being referred to as “weak”, “soft”, “sissy”, or much worse. These constructs of masculinity have had serious effects on the lives of men and boys as they are more likely to die by suicide as what happened with Tyler Helinski at Washington State University. They are more likely to die by substance abuse, more likely to commit a crime, and more likely to not go to counseling and therapy compared to their female counterparts.

This tragedy at Maryland is not an isolated incident. It is part of a pattern in which athletic programs have allowed for a culture of fear and intimidation that is based on living up to an unrealistic definition of masculinity to take over. We can look back at famous coaches such as Woody Hayes, Bobby Knight, Mike Rice, and others who were guilty of creating a dangerous and toxic environments and ultimately paid the price in terms of their jobs. Someone should certainly lose their job with regard to the death of Jordan McNair. Frankly, the NCAA and other outside entities need to step in and issue new guidelines and reforms so that this doesn’t happen again and ensure that consequences will be rendered if the program doesn’t follow through. Furthermore, there needs to be a dramatic cultural and attitude change with regard to the behaviors of coaches and others in positions of authority over young male athletes to set a good example of what being a man should be and that manhood should be built on a holistic foundation of love, compassion, empathy, vulnerability, as well as strength, toughness, and courage that is not life threatening to the self or someone else. That means that it takes more strength to cry in front of your teammates and coaches. That means the courage in embracing each other and comforting each other without it being seen differently. Whatever happens next remains to be seen, but certainly the time make a change is now.

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