Friday, December 25, 2020

Toxic Take

 As published in The County Times (

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 that introduction.

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).

More names.

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 suicide. 

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. 

Another name.

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 detoxification process.

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