The New Alpha Male

PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL players are thugs.

They are hired to be thugs. If they are not thuggy enough on the field, they are mocked and shamed publicly for bad thuggery. The big business that is the NFL and its many media permutations depends upon the players’ willingness to be thugs.

They are not hired to be heroes. They are not hired for their fine character.

Americans need to disarticulate these two concepts. They are not connected. A naïve national idea exists—one to which fans relentlessly cling—that because a man can run fast or carry a ball, he is also automatically a mixture of Shane, MisterRogers, and Abraham Lincoln. Well, he ain’t.

And it’s never been a secret.

  • More than a decade ago, Sports Illustrated ran a special report on the “dirty secret” of professional sports: the high degree of criminal activity, violence, and particularly domestic violence performed by players. SI vowed then to acknowledge domestic violence in players, and the magazine does—often in brief, one-sentence mentions in profiles of players (oh, yeah, there was that night when he beat his wife and left her naked in the front yard) that are pushed aside for the rest of the story about what a great guy he is. See my paper on my ten-year study of men’s and women’s magazine coverage of domestic violence.

Part of the problem is that players of certain physical sports are elevated to bizarre social status, and are allowed to move through life protected from the consequences of their actions. I learned this from former NFL player and Viking Carl Eller, with whom I once worked and who once let me try on his Super Bowl rings, which are about the size of bangle bracelets. Carl often spoke of the cloud of privilege in which an elite athlete moves, and the disabling shock that occurs when an athlete is forced to enter real life like a mere human being.

Part of the problem is the veneration fans, media, and, well, the nation gives to men who play with balls. I’m sorry, but top-notch athletic ability is not the fullest definition of a fine human being nor is it the pinnacle of achievement to which mere mortals can only aspire. It’s a skill, it’s an ability, it’s remarkable to watch on television, and in some sports, it’s brutish.

These thugs are not alpha males. They are physically strong people who beat up weaker people. Hip hip hooray for them.

We need a new definition of alpha male.

An alpha male is a guy who changes diapers without it ever occurring to him that he should defend that particular action to “the guys.” It’s what a man does.

An alpha male respects himself, his partner, and their children, and raises the kids to do the same.

An alpha male has seen a ballet, knows who Eugene O’Neill is, can quote a little Shakespeare, recognizes a museum when he trips over the lion in front of it, and can write a simple, clear, declarative sentence.

An alpha male can think clearly and objectively, can reason with a little Descartes and Aquinas thrown in, and can stand back from his own point of view to consider what is best for the family, the community, the nation, the world.

An alpha male is something to aspire to be, and the world needs more of them.

More of them.

Fewer thugs.

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