As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The seeds for these columns are usually a headline,
story, experience or passing thought. Words
are scribbled down – names, artists, athletes, song titles, etc. – and wait to
be featured content. Brief phrases
follow to add construct. Then it’s
writer, blinking cursor and these good bones.
With this week’s exploration completed, the term
“toxic masculinity” stared back menacingly from my notes. My brow raised to offer a quizzical and
slightly annoyed reply - not that I deny its existence, but that the
buzzworthy-ness of the term threatens to oversimplify a complex issue. Would this world, with its addiction to click
bait and allergy to deep, open-minded research, really take the time to
understand masculinity? More directly,
would behaviors associated with toxic masculinity be correctly identified as
the effect to multi-layered, culturally sowed causes?
Be strong – physically. Don’t cry.
Stiffen that upper lip. Don’t
back down. Process feelings internally. See hill take hill. Encounter wall run through it. Absorb the world – its pain and
imperfections; absorb your own self-doubt and anxiety. Emotionally project none of it - that would
be…soft. You must be a rock.
That’s what boys were taught, directly or implicitly. That’s what was expected of men. In some situations, unconsciously or
conveniently, it probably still is. No,
it definitely still is, right Skip? Hold
The names filled my notes. Some were perfect synonyms for toxic
masculinity – Bob Knight, Harvey Weinstein, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Kareem
Hunt and, at the risk of losing a few readers, Donald Trump (politics aside, if
you can’t acknowledge his toxic masculinity, to steal and massage a phrase from
Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a Trump Zombie).
Former NFL players Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre
Waters, among others, lost their lives, in part, to toxic masculinity. Each had a decorated careers and, true to the
football culture pushed their bodies and played through extreme injuries,
including concussions – which the NFL knew compromised long-term mental health for
years but did not disclose. Each
suffered from depression. Each committed
Still more names.
Hunter S. Thompson.
Ernest Hemingway. Anthony
Bourdain. All creative giants. To a man they were bold and brave - men among
men as the tired saying goes. Their forays
into the darker corners of life were, and still are, celebrated aspects of
their larger-than-life personalities. But
they weren’t in character; each carried a very real mental health burdens that grew
with age. Sadly, and like Seau, Duerson
and Waters, all committed suicide.
Back to our pal, Skip - Bayless that is. Bayless, now a member of Fox Sports, has long
been a T.V. antagonist who will gladly spout off a “hot take” to create a
reaction or fan the flames of controversy - whether he believes it or not. He exists in a crowded market, one where the
loudest and most outrageous often generates ratings, and Bayless, pandering to
his wallet, is happy to oblige.
In a recent segment on the show Undisputed, Bayless
was critical of – one last name - Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s public disclosure
of a recent bout with depression.
Why? Because, according to
Bayless, Prescott is the “CEO” and leader of the Cowboys and admitting to
seeking help was a sign of weakness and something that has no place in the
ultra-macho world of the NFL.
Facing a visceral reaction, a back-peddling Bayless has
since claimed his comment was misconstrued.
Whatever the shock jock’s intent, his original expressed suggestion –
that it is ever wrong or shameful, in any way shape or form, to address mental
health issues, especially by a male in a profession that has long been fertile
ground for toxic masculinity – is, in and of itself, a toxic take. Prescott, meanwhile, has been lauded for his
courage to proactively address his struggles and willingness to do so publicly. Both of these responses are indicative of
micro (Prescott) and macro (the majority reaction) progress. Solving toxic masculinity will be a complex
marathon, but cheering those who rattle its foundation – Prescott - and
rejecting those whose opinions perpetuate it – Bayless - at least advances the