Snoods, Gays, Sexism, and Dirty Old Men: Masculinity in Football

The sexist comments and misogynistic behavior of Andy Gray and Rickard Keys is one indication of football's backward concept of masculinity.


Denilson snood 2 eyes openThe snood: A threat to many men. Denilson takes field more threateningly than he has at anytime this season.

 

Andy Gray and Richard Keys’ recorded off-air comments leaked to media are a window to the sexism in football that everyone knows exists, but seldom witnesses. Individual or institutional prejudice seldom breaks the surface these days, because the guilty know the attitude is not accepted in the public sphere. Manners, if not genuine, are well rehearsed. Sexist attitudes are pushed behind the scenes or contained in private conversation, or so Sky’s old boys thought. Gray and Keys’ comments about referee Sian Massey consciously operated under these conditions of public taboo and private pact.

These are crude sagging old men whose behavior can’t be excused. The rules were broken and Sky Sports had no choice but to address it in the same way they would address racism. Both men were fired.

The subsequent leaked video footage of Andy Gray’s “tuck this in for me, Charlotte” was a clear act of sexual harassment in the workplace and Richard Keys’s in-studio “ You smash it?” remark is where the story becomes shocking to a world consisting of far more sensitive men.

 
Andy Gray and Richard Keys image Andy Gray, having to tuck 'this' in himself, is lost on Richard Keys.

First, the latter remarks prove that the initial comments about Sian Massey were not one-off or accidental slips, but the revelation of stunted character, suggesting something far more endemic.  Second, Gray and Keys believed that their initial comments were made without witnesses. Knowing the public taboo, they could be deliberately made in private, but the subsequent comments show a total disregard for the common decency and respect in the public sphere, including law governing the workplace.

The latter transgressions took place with the full knowledge that others were present and listening. It is an indication that both men felt that they could safely make misogynist remarks in an environment consisting mostly men. Clearly in Gray’s case, there was at least one woman present, a “Charlotte”, and in Keys' case, it was more than likely there were women working on the production staff.

Both men believed that the rules of the locker room created a safe and acceptable environment to waggle their manhood with a freedom that no woman present had a right to challenge. This was a man’s space. If any woman working in the field understood the rules, she would know it was just harmless fun and not to leave the room.

Sexism is only one face of the problem of masculinity in the game. English football has done well fighting racism, but failed when it comes to homophobia. Gay footballers are either so few and far between or so thoroughly closeted that the current discussion of homophobia still references Justin Fashanu. This is not particular to the English game. The taboo has not evolved abroad as the rumor of gay German national team players indicated.

Today metrosexuality is a cultural norm. It’s hardly pointed out. It has long lost its trademark having reached football (if fashion is an indicator), which is often slow to catch on to cultural trends.

Therefore, it’s strange to see the old school or postwar male identity flair up in Alex Ferguson or the hardened hardass reassert itself (again) in Roy Keane when snoods invaded their lives.  Their disdain was sharp and clear. Was it that much of a threat? Arséne Wenger’s defense of the snood as healthy and therapeutic added French effete and mysticism to what is seen as the fashion of a sissy who can’t take the hard reality of a subzero fixture. Keane would be eager to remind us that in his day there was no need for accoutrements, untoward or otherwise. But back in the day surgeries were conducted without anesthesia. If Keane’s as tough as those men and women, then he should forego the Novocain on the next trip to the dentist.

FIFA is considering a ban on snoods. They may be unsafe, a choking hazard. It doesn’t appear that they deliberated this for any length to consider how it could work, since body heat keeps the body warm, you know, which is good for muscles, which is good for players trying to stay healthy and win matches over the course of a long season, or in case of Ipswich, avoid relegation.

The snood is an affront to masculinity. The aversion is so strong that Ferguson’s and Keane’s protests considered neither the supposed hazard to players nor the choice of those who may find some beneficial use for one. The hatred was so irrational that both managers were incapable of offering a solution to the problem. Why not suggest a turtleneck-snood undershirt or a snood with Velcro that gives way if tugged?! They wanted the snood out of the game as quickly as possible.

One would think these men would have been shaped by the loosening of gender identities in the thirty years since Brian Clough, finding out that Justin Fashanu was gay, sent his star signing to Southampton on loan. Was the loan a clever way to give a public face and cover to the rapid disavowal or did it afford the manager a little time to think, to possibly reconsider his position that would allow the striker to return and be a part of the team?

The website Kickette is devoted to bringing us footballer’s great thighs, abs, and skin shots of all kinds—young men so hot that the writers have one hand on the keyboard while the other is fanning their flushed faces. The site has done more to highlight the sexualized zone where these guys spend a lot of time together sweaty or half-naked, or both. But it’s done with so much self-awareness and humor that it’s no longer contentious or threatening. I dare someone to send Roy Keane the link.

 

1/28/11

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