Tim Tebow is a demi god. He is the quintessential sports hero, the chosen one who reminds us that not all athletes are like Michael Vick, that American youth has a role model to emulate.
Now, I have to say that I’ve never watched Tim Tebow play. I don’t usually watch college sports, but I’m fascinated by the language of sports writers. As Nick Trujillo suggests, sports writers have the tendency to extol masculine virtues. The hegemonic masculine virtues, that is (Trujillo, 1991). The press lauded Nolan Ryan in the 1990s for his heroic endurance on the mound, his wholesome life outside the diamond, and his success. Nowadays, the press praises Tebow using much of the same language. In doing so, media shape representations of gender, which is, in itself, socially constructed (Lemish, 2008).
When we say that gender is socially constructed, we mean that there are “behaviors, expectations, perceptions, and subjectivities that define what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man” (Lemish, 2008, para 1). Furthermore, these expectations are linked to biology, even though they are established by the culture (see Women in American popular culture). Hegemonic masculinity is one of the ways in which Western cultures construct gender.
Hegemonic masculinity, as summarized by Trujillo, is characterized by five elements: “(1) physical force and control, (2) occupational achievement, (3) familial patriarchy, (4) frontiersmanship, and (5) heterosexuality” (p. 291). Trujillo uses newspaper coverage of Nolan Ryan to illustrate how the media help perpetuate hegemonic masculinity. However, can we say the same about Tim Tebow? What are the parallels between Tebow and Ryan?
- Physical strength: Nolan Ryan played through injuries; “Tebow’s entire role-model persona doesn’t work unless he can convey that, fundamentally, he’s better than you: stronger, more capable, more at peace, just basically happier” (Fagone).
- Occupational achievement: Media describes the achievements of Nolan Ryan and Tim Tebow using a barrage of statistics. Ryan’s 300 victories and 5000 strikeouts are proof of his success. Tebow’s Heismann Trophy, national championship, TDs, equally show that he is a very successful athlete.
- Familial patriarchy: Nolan Ryan is the head of his household; he is protective of his wife, and he provides for her. She, on the other hand, is absolutely dependent. Patriarchy does not appear to be the focus of the Tebow coverage; however, his family is a traditional patriarchal unit. The father, a preacher, works outside the home. We can’t be certain of what the mother does.
- Frontiersmanship: Nolan Ryan’s exploits as a cowboy re-enact frontier mythology. In Tebow’s case, his family’s missionary work took him, as a boy, to a different frontier (The Philippines). Tebow’s father, furthermore, talks about the dangers of the mission (as in “If he were killed while preaching, it would be “the best thing that could ever happen.””).
- Heterosexual: Both athletes are “coded” as heterosexual. Tebow’s religious faith, in fact, obscures any questions (as in, deeply religious people are not ever gay?).
There are some additional parallels. Tebow, for example, is the regular guy, which is a theme also associated with Nolan Ryan. Tebow is religious, which according to the protestant work ethic, results in blessings and success. Ryan is successful, hence, the opposite logic applies.
Is hegemonic masculinity absolute?
No, in fact, as any form of public discourse, hegemonic masculinity is challenged by different groups. This has led to the argument that, rather than talking about one form of masculinity, we should acknowledge different “masculinities,” or ways of “doing” masculinity” (Beynon, 2008). Furthermore, when we consider today’s media landscape, consumers have a bounty of options. This has led to increasing media fragmentation and specialization, which has opened the door to different forms of media representation.
- Benyon, J. (2008). Masculinity and the Media. The international encyclopedia of communication.
- Lemish, D. (2008). Gender: Representation in the Media. The international encyclopedia of communication. Retrieved (2009, October 6) fromhttp://bit.ly/jER3d
- Trujillo, N. (1991). Hegemonic masculinity on the mound: media representations of Nolan Ryan and American sports culture. Critical Studies in Mass Communications, 8, 290-308.
- Fagone, J. (2009, August). Does God have a Tim Tebow complex?. GQ, Retrieved from http://men.style.com/gq/features/landing?id=content_10597