Manly Sports

There are sports that help men connect with there Inner Gladiator and sports that do not. Here is a small sampling of sports that are more manly than others.

Hockey. Hockey is the most masculine of all sports. It has everything gladiators had with a few bonuses. There are two armies facing each other on a battlefield of ice. Speed and agility combine with brute strength and endurance in a battle to shoot a projectile into a target. It has speed that no other human-powered sport has. It has the excitement and drama of any good competition.

And it has hitting. Lots and lots of hitting. Most of the hitting comes in the form of legal checks, when one player shoulders another into the boards while stealing the puck. Another kind of hitting come when two or more opposing players “drop their gloves” and go at each other bare knuckled. It is barbaric and some consider it immature, but it is fun to watch. There are even statistics about how many fights a player has gotten into and how many he has won. In Detroit, there is such a thing as a “Gordie Howe hat trick”. That means that during a single game, a player scores a goal, has an assist, and wins a fight.

Baseball. This is a perfect example of a sport that is more difficult than most to categorize as “Manly”. Broken down into its basic parts, there is not a lot to it. Man 1 throws a ball at Man 2, who tries to hit it past Men 3 through 10. Man 2 then runs in a big circle before any of the other men can touch him with the ball. If he does, his team gets one point. Next time you are watching Sports Center, try and figure out what makes one highlight different from another. You will notice that it’s not much. A good catch, a strikeout, a homerun. That’s about it.

The simplicity of the sport does not keep it from being Manly, however. In fact, that is probably why so many men like it. We understand it. We could, if we wanted, play it (unlike hockey). It also has almost everything a man needs in a sport. It has a weapon. It has something to hit. It has enough athleticism to cause sweating, but ample time to rest in between exertions. Most importantly, it has statistics.

We like statistics. There is something comforting about being able to prove, with black and white numbers, who is better than whom at this or that. Statistics can be the basis of heated arguments or the logic behind a wager. An entire industry, called “Fantasy Baseball”, is based on stats. You “sign” a team full of players and their statistics throughout the year determines your standing in the league. It’s like trading cards, but there is a pot you can win at the end.

You can play Fantasy Football, Hockey, and Basketball. I have heard they tried to start a Fantasy Curling League in Canada, but there simply aren’t enough statistics in the game.

In Little League, teams were in first, second or third place. In the Majors, the teams are so many games behind first with a winning percentage. Players have RBIs and slugging percentages and numbers of singles, doubles, and triples listed. You can learn everything you need about a player, from his favorite drink to his mother’s maiden name if you get the right statistical report. Stats are cold hard facts, and men like them.

Ping Pong. Ping pong does not get the respect it deserves. Face to face with your enemy, you launch your assault by swatting a ball with a wooden racquet. Strategy for placing your rounds is essential. You are in a constant attack/defend battle with the victory going to the smartest and the quickest. In short, ping pong is war on a teeny tiny scale. Of course, the downside of the sport is that, if you take it seriously, you will be mercilessly teased by almost everyone you know. But you are a man! You can take some harassment. Scoffers simply don’t understand.

One thing ping pong lacks is athleticism of any kind. A fat man in a wheel chair can be a champion. Add some sweating and grunting, and you have tennis. Maybe you could ride a bike to a ping pong tournament and then have it all.

Boxing. You cannot get more combative than two guys trying to beat each other up. It has violence and sweat and, since Mohammed Ali, a lot of smack talking between the warriors. I recommend watching this sport instead of participating because actually getting into the ring seems a bit too barbaric for most men. Also, boxing hurts. Mind you, pain isn’t necessarily bad, only when it precedes brain damage. The advantage of boxing is that, if you are successful, you get to sell your own line of indoor grills.

Wimpy Sports

Playing or following sports is an excellent way for a Stay-At-Home-Dad to keep in touch with his Inner Gladiator. Before a man runs out and joins the nearest croquet league or buys a game-worn jersey of his favorite bowler, he should first analyze the sport to see if it qualifies as Manly. Some do not.

Running. Running is not a sport. It is exercise. Exercise is work. Work, in this context, is bad. Track and field events have similarities to both gladiatorial games and caveman activities, but running is just too hard to be any fun. The biggest flaw in running is that there is no goal. You run in order to run. It’s a futile cycle. You can compete in races, where the object is to run faster than everyone else, but that is not much different than running alone. You can’t even touch another competitor, much less hit them, so that element is completely missing. You do sweat when you run, so that’s a good thing.

Bicycling. Until the Tour deFrance allows a demolition derby category, biking does not work. Bikes are useful for going to the store, going on a stroll, or just exercisise. While all of these are valuable, they are not Manly Sports. Besides, those little seats and spandex pants can make things really uncomfortable.

Bowling. I have heard that there are more bowling alleys in Michigan than any other state. There are also more golf courses. That does not bode well for the Wolverine State because bowling does not measure up as a Manly sport. It does have contact. The ball smashes into the pins and they go flying in every direction. However, the bowler is not touching the ball when it does its damage. The ball probably has a great time demolishing the tidy pyramid of pins, but the person bowling has already relinquished control over it. The competitive strategy is too simple to count: knock down more pins than your opponent. You do have to aim properly to pick up a spare, but that is competition with the pins, not your opponent.

The only redeemable feature is the ability to trash talk. The strutting and dancing that bowlers do in the faces of their enemies can be beautiful things. However, that alone is not enough to bring it up to the level of Manly.

Croquet. Any activity you can play while listening to the theme to “Masterpiece Theatre” cannot be Manly. Yes, there is a mallet, but the restraint you have to employ when using is emasculating enough. You are allowed to wallop your opponents’ balls out of play, but you cannot gloat about it afterwards. Overall, this might be the un-Manliest “sport” there is.

Golf. This is a difficult game to categorize as a hunting or fighting game. However, so many men play it, there must be something there. We simply have to think outside the playing field. The object of golf is to use a club (think weapon) to hit a ball into a target. This is very similar to an artillery crew attempting to knock out an enemy’s position. The differences are that innocent people usually aren’t killed if you slice, and no one is shooting back at you when you are lining up your putt.

Golf has three major drawbacks. First, it is not essentially competitive. You could play it all by yourself, so there would be no victory. Secondly, golf etiquette prohibits trash talk. You are not allowed to get into the face of your opponent when he chokes and misses an important putt. That takes out a lot of the fun. Finally, the better you get at golf, the fewer opportunities you get to hit the ball. In fact, the winner is the one with the lowest score. What is up with that?

Next week, curling, NASCAR, and rugby!

©2008, Mark Phillips

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 Women, it's true, make human beings, but only men can make men. - Margaret Mead

Mark Phillips is a Stay-At-Home-Dad and freelance writer. Along with raising his four children, he is developing a franchise called “The Vacuum IS a Power Tool.” It is designed to help SAHDs maintain that which makes us men, instead of hairy Mom-substitutes. He earned a B.S. in Communication/Theatre Arts and teaching certificates in English, public speaking, and psychology from Eastern Michigan University. After six years as a high school English teacher and Director of Dramatic Arts at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan, he changed careers and became a Stay-At-Home-Dad. or E-Mail

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