THE MASK OF MASCULINITY
Saying, “I love you” to another dude is for the soft and weak.
This lie about love is one of the many Masks of Masculinity…and I used to agree.
Being a coach’s son and the youngest of two boys, I grew up thinking that being a man (especially an athlete) was all about being tough. Real men don’t cry, we don’t show weakness, and the strongest are like Superman – made of steel and feel no pain.
I used to never say the words “I love you” to anyone…especially not a teammate. Even though my freshman roommate Matt Kegel (Havre, Montana’s finest) told me “I love you” most nights before we went to bed in our tiny little dorm room, I often times left him hanging. My insecurities, immaturity, and lack of hearing that from another guy kind of rattled me. Thus, I wouldn’t reciprocate.
Matt and I were different, but similar in a lot of ways. He loved football, he loved life, and he loved people. You can learn a lot from a free spirited Montana cowboy.
“That’s weird,” I remember thinking.
I was like many young misguided male athletes, caught up in holding up a macho image. By not saying, “I love you” back, I was keeping in tact the mirage of my manhood. Sometimes, I’d steal a line from the movie Ghost though and say, “Ditto.” That was the best I could do.
I remember playing the University of Hawaii on the road my freshman year at WSU. It was our final game of a rough season and I was one of only 3 true freshman to start that season. One of the 3 was Seahawk legend and Pro Bowler, Marcus Trufaunt. Marcus had just made an interception to close out a tight game in front of a hostile crowd.
I remember being so pumped in the heat of battle that I hugged him and said, “I love you bro!”
I totally acted out of character, but was caught up in the moment…I was playing with turf toe and bruised ribs that day. We had only 2 wins prior to that game and needed a momentum boost for the off-season.
It felt a little awkward saying it and even more awkward when he didn’t say it back. “I’m never doing that again,” I thought.
Saying “I love you,” is for girls and gays, not real men…that’s the old mask of masculinity in me talking. This misogynistic and homophobic thought process is still unfortunately all too common in male team sports.
It’s taken many years of study, self reflection, and learning from successful mentors to learn that love is everything – no matter one’s gender or orientation.
Love gives purpose. Love feels pain. Love won’t stop. Love transcends.
I often see young people (especially guys) who haven’t established their core values yet make immature remarks about love. Either they misuse it to gain an advance with women, or never use it at all – especially with men, friends, or teammates. Often times it’s not their fault. They’ve been modeled this behavior by prominent male figures in their life and even society (look who is leading our country).
Masculinity is often times masked by ego, self interest, insecurity, and the narcissistic adage that image is everything.
Gotta look cool. Gotta be hard. Gotta fit in. Gotta look tough.
Many “tough guys” think showing vulnerability is showing weakness – especially in front of other males. Who can blame them? They’ve seen “real leaders” yell, demean, and put others down. These leaders don’t say “I love you,” they’re too busy being tough and focusing on kicking ass.
I argue the opposite. Being vulnerable is a sign of strength. You can have goals and grace. You can show love and hold people accountable.
Aside from ego-centric leadership, we are living in an epidemic of misplaced masculinity. Bullying seems to be at an all time high. Selfishness is everywhere. Entitlement is through the roof. Teams, schools, and organizations all have these types of people. I call them energy takers – taking positive energy away from others. The many social media platforms are a feeding ground for energy takers.
There are many trolls out there that get some sort of enjoyment out of sucking energy from other people by posting disrespectful comments. These put-downs in my opinion often times come from a place of insecurity. Below is a comment from an energy taker – someone who takes away energy because they lack in something (self-esteem, confidence, happiness, or misguided leadership). This comment was in part directed at me.
Instead of being an energy taker, be an energy maker – someone who uplifts, supports, helps, and cares for others. The world could use more energy makers and less energy takers.
Energy takers come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. These individuals have no regard for others. Often times they don’t even realize how their selfish actions affect the larger group. They might claim to be all about “team,” but their ignorant comments, posts, and even body language show otherwise. They blame, complain, and shame. These actions might actually be a cry for help.
Can you think of any energy takers in your family, team, school, or work?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a local top ranked high school baseball team on mindset training, synergy, and culture this year. As they recently began the post season, I made a poster that I hoped would inspire unselfishness, sacrifice, and most importantly, love. This poster was the source of the energy taker’s comment I mentioned above.
I gave three examples to the team to anchor the message about the power of love.
One of the stories I shared was how a woman in her 50’s had the strength to lift a car 4 inches off the ground to save her son who was stuck under a car.
The point: The LOVE of another can give you super-human STRENGTH.
The second example I shared was a video of Clemson’s head football coach Dabo Swinney’s post game interview after they upset Alabama in the final seconds of the National Championship game.
A reporter asked, “How did you guys come-back and win?”
He said, “We won because of love. Love has been my word all year. I told them, I don’t know how we are gonna do it, but if we love each other, we’ll win.”
The point: LOVE for your team, coaches, and program gives you FAITH.
The last example I shared was about Michael Jordan’s love of the game of basketball. As a rookie, he made sure his agent and the Chicago Bulls inserted a “For the Love of the Game Clause” in his contract. This clause meant he could play basketball in the off-season wherever and with whoever he wanted. Many teams put off-season regulations on their superstars, but Jordan wouldn’t have it.
One of the reasons why Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time, is because of his deep passion for the game of basketball. Similar to other greats like Tom Brady and Derek Jeter, they don’t play for money or for the accolades, but because of the love affair with their sport.
The point: Talent alone won’t get you there, LOVE and PASSION are the pathway to greatness.
Trust me, I am all about winning. I’m all about getting after it and competing your ass off. I’m all about being a bulldog and hitting ’em in the mouth…all under the rules of play. However, I’m just trying to shift the common masculine paradigm on how you get there.
It really boils down to this point:
Relationships create Championships.
Relationships with others (especially teammates) are the most impactful part of being an athlete – not just winning. Ask many athletes who are done playing and they’ll tell you, the biggest thing they miss about being a student-athlete or professional is the relationships and the time spent in the locker room and being with their teammates – not the actual game.
In the end, we CAN’T control the number of banners, titles, and championships we get. However, we CAN control the depth and meaning of our relationships – in athletics, work, school, and life. A loving relationship is the ultimate championship.
If you love your teammates, your team, and the process more than the ring, I believe you’ll increase your likelihood of getting the ring… especially if everyone on your squad is on the same page.
Call me soft or Charmin, but that is the legacy I’m leaving…as a husband, father, leader, and coach….a legacy of love. A love for myself, others, and to pursuing one’s passion.
When Troy Aikman won his first Super Bowl, he found himself in his hotel room crying his eyes out. He asked himself “Is this it?” He got the “ship,” but he wasn’t satisfied…it wasn’t enough. People change your life, more then events do.
What is achievement if you have no one to share it with or if that is the only thing you play for? Also, if you judge your value as a person on wins and losses alone (as an athlete, salesman, coach, teacher, or whatever profession you were in), you are setting up yourself for constantly feeling unfulfilled – a trap I used to put myself in often.
We can’t control specific outcomes. However, we can control our commitments.
This was an exercise I did with the team I was working with. I first had them write down their goal for the postseason. Almost everyone wrote down they wanted to win a state title. I had them tear up their original goal. Some were a little confused, but I explained, “Every team in this playoff has that same goal – to win a championship.”
I told them that we can’t control what happens at the end of this tournament. However, what we can control is our commitment to ourself and our team.
I gave them a new sheet of paper and had them write down their one commitment for the postseason. I had a few of the players share their commitment…it was very inspiring. Their focus shifted from all outcomes, to be more effort and attitude based goals. The entire team then wrote their one commitment on the team banner that read FAMILY: Forget About Me I Love You.
This exercise I felt would help narrow their focus, lower their anxieties, and channel their concentration on what really matters. I challenged them to make this their only goal for the postseason: Focus on family, love, and their commitment.
I’m totally aware that this approach isn’t for everyone. It’s not the only way to win. But in my years of high-level competition in athletics and in the corporate world, LOVE is my vision and what I value most. LOVE is how I lead.
My challenge to you is this: reevaluate your understanding of the word love. Reassess your commitments to yourself, others, and in pursuing your passion.
Try to live life by this creed: Let love rule.
Jesus taught us, “These three will last forever – faith hope and love – but the greatest of all is love (1 Cor 13:13).”
The Beetles sang, “All you need is love. Love is all you need.”
Dabo Swinney’s 2016 word of the year that guided Clemson to the National Championship was: Love.
If it worked for Jesus, the Beatles, and Dabo, Love just might work for you and your team.
When you unveil the mask of masculinity, and remove its insecure intentions, what you’ll find is every living creature – even men too – need love. And the best way I’ve learned over the years to receive love…is to give it. Even if you don’t get the instant gratification of hearing, “I love you,” back.
For the record Matt…I LOVE YOU.
Collin Henderson is the creator and founder of Project Rise. Project Rise is a platform to uplift, inspire, and give individuals and teams the tools to be the best version of themselves. As a former Division-I two sport athlete and over ten years of experience as an award winning representative and trainer in medical sales, with two Fortune 500 companies, Collin offers strategies for peak performance in business, athletics, and academia. He is passionate about teaching the power of a healthy mindset, servant leadership, and the life changing affects of gratitude.