Sports Objects

‘Objectification’ is often misrepresented to be merely about turning women into sex objects or commenting on their bodies. The word, however, is obvious–object-ify. Turn into an object, take away both subjectivity/autonomy and full humanity, assert ownership of/authority over her choices that have no impact on you. Call her ‘selfish’ simply for deciding to have a self.

I’m behind here, since this aired ages ago, but the finale of the first season of Friday Night Lights (sidebar: I could probably write three dissertations on the layers of awesomeness in that show) contains some brilliantly subtle moments of non-sexual objectification of a man.

Brief summary: Members of the high school football team are, in this football-driven town, always identified and defined by their position and status on the field. At season’s end, Coach Taylor accepts a coaching job at a university after only one year in town. It’s a huge step up career wise, and it’s what he wants for himself, but it’s a difficult decision because of the impact it will have on his family and on the team members.

One great scene features the coach listening to a local radio call-in show talking about his decision. Not talking to him, nor considering it, as far as I can tell, but making assumptions about his motives, which are labeled not just selfish, but greedy. The interviewer baits the callers with the question of whether the coach is ‘a great coach, but a better opportunist’, and the scene ends as Taylor turns off the radio while the first caller says “I shook that man’s hand once. I thought he had a heart.” These are people who have never met the coach, and clearly have no knowledge of the complex factors that went into his choice, but they feel that they have some authority over his life, and that he has the obligation to sublimate himself to their desires. People who know him, specifically the team members who will be losing something real and personal when he leaves, are able to get past the question of their own needs. The disproportionate impact that the question has on the life of the coach, his family, and the team vs. on Dillon residents who have never actually met him highlights that they are making him an object. He’s an abstract figure there to serve their needs, not a person with a life outside his public role.

Celebrities are regularly objectified in similar ways, and, in general, the women still more so than the men, but sports figures in particular highlight a small group of men over whom we are socially willing to assert our ownership and thereby objectify. It’s kind of unfortunate that this gives me another reason to feel feminist/pacifist guilt about my passionate hockey fandom.

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