sports culture at the high school – The Sagamore
School has started anew and with the turn of fall, some of the high school’s most popular sports are back in season. Around this time of year, I usually start to expect a few too many Instagram posts from Brookline football boys who play for a team that loses most of their games and yet still manage to rake in plenty of smoke and ice emoji comments on their game pictures. Brookline, we all know, is not exactly a football town. In fact, no sport at the high school is quite what it’s made out to be in all those teenage movies, but sometimes it seems like we like to pretend that they are. We still go to the football game on an occasional Friday night because it feels like an American adolescent tradition. Some of us start fights at basketball games, perhaps because it’s the type of thing that would happen in the stereotypical high school stories that often pervade our subconscious perception of our own lives. Sports, for those who play and for those who choose to cheer along, have the pow er to shape strong feelings of identity, and at the high school, it seems they often become an outlet or opportunity to embody the person we want to be and cultivate the teenage experience we think we should be living.
For boys especially, I think that sports can be a major channel through which people at the high school form some desired persona and present it to their peers, and, in turn, sports are a lens we use to perceive others. In particular, I ‘ve noticed that sports are a way for the boys here to become the hero they want to be, and if they can’t themselves be that star, they do the next best thing, which is to get in line with someone who is a hero. The boys soccer team wore their jerseys to school for what felt like every game day last year, and of course, they dyed their hair blonde, which got everyone’s attention, and subsequently elevated their status within the school culture. And while the girls soccer team dyed the tips of their hair blue and field hockey did purple, it only lasted for a couple weeks and it was only the very ends of their hair, as if some of the girls didn’t want to fully commit to giving their whole identity to the sport. The football team won one game last year and got a trophy for it, which of course, they then broadcasted on social media and were saluted with yessirs and goat emojis.
In large numbers boys at high school are advertising their athletic endeavors, and in response, there’s a pattern of hero-worshiping, usually from other boys. We filled an entire fan bus to watch the soccer team play at the state championship. JV cross country boys go around telling everyone how fast the top runners are. Word spreads quickly about boys and their sports – for them, excelling in a sport is as much a social accomplishment as it is an athletic one.
Girls, on the other hand, don’t usually ask for as much attention on their success, and, as a result, don’t quite stumble upon this hero status in the same way. We respect the talented athletes, but for girls, it never feels like the sport becomes their entire personality. I’m thinking, for example, about Margo Mattes, a basketball star, or Camille Jordan, a sub 5 minute miler; both evidently have a bit of celebrity prestige around the school, but it just feels slightly different. We don’t know them only in terms of their sport, and they surely don’t know themselves solely in that way. Boys who succeed in a sport tend to form an identity around those accomplishments, and it seems oftentimes girls don’t feel the need to do the same. This distinction in personality is subtle, but in my eyes very real, and the potential reasons for this trend are interesting to me.
The fact that boys get so much support and admiration is actually quite surprising, because in most senses, it goes against the unspoken code of hypermasculinity for teenage boys to be so blatantly nice to one another. They exist within the fragile confines of toughness, and they tether themselves far from any action or trait that might crumble their masculinity or veer too far towards femininity. All the compliments and an obsession with the chosen hero feel, in essence, too sentimental to be allowed. But they find a way to disguise this admiration behind an innocent enthusiasm for sports, which is of course a more acceptable and masculine interest. And so it seems that boys seek so much validation from their athletic achievements because it is one of the only ways that they are able to get any validation at all from their peers. It feels like there are so many societal pressures that inhibit young boys’ abilities to be genuine, and so it’s not easy for them to compliment traits that are less traditionally and aggressively masculine, such as kindness, or even academic achievement. I generally don’t believe in high school caricatures, but the “dumb jock” stereotype feels a little bit real here sometimes. This persona manifests from time to time because boys are often particularly impressionable to social norms. They, like anyone else, want to be validated – and also it seems, want to give validation – but they can only find the means for it through hypermasculine traits like strength and dominance; and as a result, the culture that emerges is aggressive and ego-centric. The social norms at the high school, are in a way, failing the boys here. We’ve perpetuated a culture where we usually only recognize and celebrate boys when they confine themselves to a sports-dominated, and by association, brash identity, and I think that they deserve better.
They deserve the same standard as girls, who at the high school have more freedom to be their whole selves and appreciate others for being their whole selves, and so as a result, sports are only one way that we might find recognition. Though I run cross country and track seriously, I don’t feel any substantial need to let other people know about that, because I feel that in general, my friends understand and affirm who I am as a person.
But as an athlete, I’m tired of the hero-worshiping sports culture. Though boys being overtly supportive of each other is rare and nice, there’s too much obnoxious intensity clouding the genuinity of it. My teammates and I are tired of hearing about the soccer boys and “defending the chip,” when we too are the first ranked team in Division 1 (according to the Boston Globe), and the favorite to win the state championship, which nobody seems to understand. Sports at the high school, at their best, can be beautiful. They can bring us together and give us a sense of purpose, but they can also at times promote a simplistic and confining image of what a Brookline High School boy should be.