Hypermasculinity and Sports

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Varda Burstyn provides great insight on hypermasculinity and modern sport in her book, The Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics and the Culture of Sports. In this book, Burstyn asserts that performance enhancing drugs have become institutionalized as part of the “hypermasculinization” in sports and society. Athletes use performance-enhancing drugs to receive an energy boost as a means of playing through the pain endured during a sporting event. Especially in modern sports, competition has increased dramatically and athletes are willing to do anything they can to gain a competitive advantage. Monetary and materialistic incentives that are attached to winning in modern sports have catalyzed a need to attain even the smallest advantage. The source of athletes’ mentality of gaining a smallest advantage over competitors can be traced back from the time they were young to the time they reach the professional stage. The pressure to perform at a high-level consistently throughout his life has influenced the athlete to rely on drugs and has normalized the use of drugs in modern sports. However, using performance enhancing drugs comes with its fair share of disadvantages as well. Athletes who use steroids tend to have mood swings, increased aggression, violent behaviour and implacable lust. Nevertheless, the perceived benefits from consuming performance-enhancing drugs exceed the negative consequences for most athletes at any life stage.

Achieving professional athlete status in modern sports requires physical and mental training starting during childhood. Parents put their children in a rigorous athletic program at a young age to develop and enhance the necessary skills required for a particular sport. As Burstyn states in her book, “some parents attempt to prepare their children for university education at Harvard while they are still in kindergarten, certain parents determine that their children will aim for the Olympics, and enter them into competition and rigorous training before they have learned to read” (Varda, 1999). Children trained and coached at a young age tend to overstrain their bodies and are pushed beyond what their young bodies can physically handle. To remedy this toll on their bodies, these same coaches and parents tend to give younger athletes certain drugs in an effort to expedite healing and give their kids a competitive advantage over other kids. In an article by Bryan Denham, he states that drugs consumed by most athletes can be classified as restorative or ergogenic.

“Restorative drugs - pain-killers, muscle relaxants and among others, keep athletes on the field, sometimes longer than they should be. Shot of cortisone, for instance, can eliminate short-term pain.” (Denham, 2000) These drugs are often given to the child because his parents or coaches want the child to succeed and win in competition at any cost. The benefits received from winning trump the harmful consequences of using performance-enhancing drugs for these coaches, parents and children. The winning mentality is etched into the child’s brain at an impressionable stage of their development. The young athlete becomes hardwired to believe that winning is the only thing that matters, and “the psychoanalytic equation runs something like this: winning = coach’s approval=parent’s acceptance=acceptance of self (self esteem)” (Varda, 1999). In other words, at an age in which self-esteem and peer acceptance is very important, children learn to measure their self worth by their success on the field of play.

As kids continue to mature and enter their adolescent stage, their exposure to performance-enhancing drugs increases and the consumption rates also increase. One study by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association estimates a little over one million adolescents ages twelve to seventeen in the United States have taken performance-enhancing supplements or drugs (Korn, 2003). “More recently, high school and junior high athletes have admitted...
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