Murder-Suicide and Jock Culture

Denver Broncos v Kansas City ChiefsIn a murder-suicide Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, Jovan Belcher, shot and killed his 22-year-old girlfriend and then killed himself at the young age of 25. Their baby daughter, Zoey, is now motherless and fatherless.

In a recent New York Times piece, Frank Bruni pondered the effect of football culture on athletes and how it may have influenced the killings:

While it’s too soon to say whether Belcher himself was a victim of that culture, it’s worth noting that the known facts and emerging details of his story echo themes all too familiar in pro football over recent years: domestic violence, substance abuse, erratic behavior, gun possession, bullets fired, suicide.

Bruni considers this range of problems. I’ll look at how the culture harms relationships and buttresses hostility and violence against women.

When sociologist, Timothy Jon Curry, spent time hanging with athletes he found a “locker room culture” that demeaned women and celebrated violence against them.

Not all guys were the same. Some talked about women as real people and discussed their relationships, usually in quite tones with a best friend. But if someone overheard, they’d get slapped down. Because any “real man” knows that men should not be dependent on or vulnerable to women.

In a hushed conversation in one corner of the locker room a guy told his best friend, “I’ve got to talk to you about my girlfriend.”

But the others jibed him:

Yeah, tell us what she’s got.

Boy, you’re in trouble now.

You’ll have to leave our part of the room. This is where the men are.

More often guys talked boisterously – and often with hostility — about women as sex objects and conquests. All to enhance their hetero manly-men images.

Girlfriends were slammed. An assistant coach held up a picture of an obese woman that he called “Frank’s girlfriend.” Another sneered, “When she sits around the house, she really sits around the house.” Or, “She’s so ugly that her mother took her everywhere so she wouldn’t have to kiss her goodbye.”

Other times the guys seemed to celebrate rape:

Hey Pete, did you know Terry is a sexual dynamo? Well he said he was with two different girls in the same day and both girls were begging, and I emphasize begging, for him to stop.

Even moms were not immune:

She’s too young to be his mother!

Man, I’d hurt her if I got a hold of her.

I’d tear her up.

I’d break her hips.

Yeah, she was hot!

So here we have male bonding, men “being men,” men being different from women and in a way that controls and dominates them.

Curry says it all makes successful, loving, nurturing relationships difficult and supports violence against women. In fact, he says, there’s evidence that years of living in this sort of culture desensitizes guys to women’s rights and supports male supremacy.

And judging from one dead linebacker, his dead partner and orphaned daughter, that’s not good for anyone.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 7, 2012, in feminism, men, psychology, rape and sexual assault, relationships, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. My honest opinion in regards to the jock cultures is that we as citizens or the people have given sanction to the culture by our silence. That is to say that we act like we don’t hear or see this type of behavior because of the person’s status. We fear that we would be seen as judgmental if we voice the truth about how hurtful this jock culture has become to women of all ages. A reform of how this culture communicates in the locker room, practice and pretty much while they are on duty at work will leave a positive trail for the ones that will follow behind them.

  2. Sehyeon (Sam) Park

    I played football in high school, and spent two years in military service. In my home country military duty was for all man. And since 120 or more guys at their 20’s are stuck in a base for at least 2 month you can imagine how they feel about woman. I didn’t get it at first, but it seems everyone talked about how they were the ‘man’ when it comes to woman. They bragged about how they treated their girlfriends. No matter how bad they treat their woman, they were still loved by their girlfriends. Being a man was to treat woman badly at that time. I thought about where it came from. And the society judging man who is sweet and nice to woman was considered weak. No man wanted to be viewed as weak man. I do not know how they treated their girlfriends in real life, but by listening to their stories, I felt really bad for their girlfriends. And one thing I still don’t get is why man would tell their friends about their sexual life. How they made love with their girlfriend is something I do not wish to hear about. And some people love to talk about their private sex life with anybody.

  3. Initially hearing about somebody committing murder and proceeding to take their own life, I only think that the person must have had some great mental instability that possessed them to commit such a violent act. Considering the context of the situation, I see the connection between the “locker room talk”, the hateful demeaning attitude towards women, the distorted view these men must have towards their relationships with women due to the horrible expectations of how they should behave and treat women in their lives. For any of us, I believe at some point that our thoughts in our head, words we speak, and beliefs we acquire through life experiences manifest into our decisions and actions. Thus, if we find ourselves to be breeding a powerful resentment, we are bound to act upon it.
    So as far as what personal issues influenced this man to do what he did, I think it is very telling that he sought to destroy the lives of women in his life; by killing his girlfriend and leaving his innocent orphaned daughter behind.

  4. this is a horrible story but it is so true about what men on athletic teams do in the locker rooms. when i attended the university, I heard so many stories about how the guys talk so negatively about the women they have slept with or partied with. it is awful to know some guys are so cold hearted. and to know this football player had a family pisses me off, because his daughter did not deserve this and now she has to grow up with the stories and learning to grow up without parents. awful awful awful.

  5. But why commit suicide? I don’t understand that part of it. If anyone has an answer I would love to hear it.

    • I’m not sure. Some people commit suicide when they have a great deal of anger in them and they eventually take it out on themselves. Better to deal with anger issues. But macho men often won’t see anyone for help, either. Afraid that would seem weak. Deal with it in a violent, macho way instead.

  6. So sad, so tragic. Still, we keep hearing about stuff like this. If only… If only men were not conditioned to find pathological behavior admirable or “macho” we would as a culture benefit from it.

  7. I imagine you’d know better than I, but isn’t the real root one of the men being afraid, both of their own feelings and potential ‘attachment’ to a woman, and of women themselves – that actually as men they don’t know how to make women happy, they aren’t secure in their own sexuality and masculinity, they brag about being ‘sexually all that’ precisely because they fear being sexually not much – possibly not much of anything?

    • Well, not all men beat, rape or kill women. The rate of rape and battery is higher among men who are or who have been a part of jock culture. All men must contend with “the man code” but it is in these cultures that the “man code” is most oppressively policed. Man code: no sissy stuff, boys don’t cry, be the big wheel (important, high status, above other men), be the sturdy oak that is always strong and invulnerable. And give ’em hell.

      And in all this, men are less afraid of women than they are of other men who are judging their manliness, telling them whether they deserve the high status of manhood. Women often get used and abused in that pursuit of “recognized” manhood. See this article, for instance:

      Besides, what do big, high status jocks have to fear from women? They’re bigger and stronger. With their status and $ they’re unlikely to face rejection. Likely to have groupies flaunting over them. Yet this misogynist behavior is stronger among these guys than other guys. They’re more afraid of the other big, tough high status guys with whom they’re constantly competing for status than they are of women.

      I like to keep my posts to 500 words so I just handle small parts at a time. I actually just wrote a piece on this very topic and then realized I’d need to write several more posts leading upto it.

  8. It’s such an awful story, and sadly not as rare as people might think.

    If more schools adhered to Title IX’s athletic equity requirement, sending a message that women are valued, I think it would help eviscerate sexist jock culture. All sports, whether men’s or women’s, lose out to football, an expensive sport that encourages sexist cultural norms and slowly kills its players with brain damage and other physical injuries.

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