Elite-level athletes are placed upon heightened pedestals in societies world-wide. At the same time, there is a dark side to these glorified competitors that remains hidden from those outside of exclusive athletic circles. Dr. Nick Pappas' athletic background in collegiate and professional sports has provided insider access, enabling him to uncover an array of disturbing sexually deviant and aggressive behaviors, which have silently thrived for decades in many athlete cultures. These findings, expressed through the athletes' own words, are the result of more than 10 years of cutting-edge research involving in-depth interviews with 142 collegiate, minor, and major league athletes from five prominent U.S. sports. Written in an engaging style, "The Dark Side of Sports" is a must read with messages not only for athletes, coaches, managers, and administrators, but also for parents, women, students, and sports enthusiasts. While these important discoveries are certain to shock, raise awareness, and provide a wake-up call for those in and outside of the sports world, they also promote a sense of urgency for taking action to prevent and address these harmful behaviors. "The Dark Side of Sports" has strong appeal for diverse audiences because it highlights the need for risk management in every male athletic culture. This includes individuals with direct involvement in sports such as athletes, coaches, managers, administrators, and support staff, who see the importance of addressing and deterring potentially harmful and dangerous behavior that can ruin an athletic program's reputation in an instant. At the same time, this book serves as an invaluable resource for parents, women, and fans by raising awareness to the significant issues surrounding a darker, hidden side of sports.
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Sport, Culture & Society, Vol. 9
Nick T. Pappas
The Dark Side of Sports
Exposing the Sexual Culture of Collegiate and Professional Athletes
Meyer & Meyer Sport
This book is dedicated to athletes who strive for excellence and promote it both on and off the field of competition.
ABOUT THE SERIES – SPORT, CULTURE & SOCIETY
The Sport, Culture and Society series deals with issues intersecting sport, physical activity and cultural concerns. The focus of the book series is interdisciplinary, groundbreaking work that draws on different disciplines and theoretical approaches, such as sociology, philosophy, cultural anthropology, history, cultural studies, feminist studies, postmodernism, or critical theory. The Sport, Culture and Society series seeks to reflect both, the variety of research concerns from a multi-disciplinary perspective and discussions of current topics in sport and physical activity and their relationship to culture.
Karin Volkwein-Caplan (USA), Keith Gilbert (UK), and Jasmin Tahmaseb McConatha (USA)
For further information about the book series or the submission of proposals please contact:
Karin Volkwein-Caplan, West Chester University, Department of Kinesiology, West Chester, PA 19383, USA, e-mail: [email protected]
Keith Gilbert, University of the West of England, Hartpury College, Hartpury House, Gloucester, Gloustershire, GL19 3BE, UK, e-mail: [email protected]
Jasmin Tahmaseb McConatha, West Chester University, Department of Kinesiology, West Chester, PA 19383, USA, e-mail: [email protected]
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Nick T. Pappas
The Dark Side of Sports
Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2012
(Sport, Culture & Society; Vol. 9)
All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including the translation
rights. No part of this work may be reproduced – including by photocopy, microfilm or
any other means – processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form
whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.
© 2012 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.
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Member of the World
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E-Mail: [email protected]
Athletes’ Exhibitionism, Deviant Masturbation, and Bodily Discharges
Hearing words like male exhibitionism, deviant masturbation and bodily discharges stirs up thoughts of sinister older men with mental health issues who appear in dark alleys wearing long overcoats. Now ask yourself if such reactions would be the same if these behaviors occurred among a highly regarded group of young men who also happened to be elite-level athletes? People may laugh with disbelief or question the source, but it is true: Male athletic environments offer a unique and protective safe haven where young men are relatively free to speak and act in whatever way they please. This enables profanity-filled stories highlighting sexual exploits, bravado, deviancy, and/or aggression to flourish because virtually no one monitors athletes but themselves while they remain within sheltered strongholds including locker rooms.1 Moreover, the same holds true when it comes to behavior because some athletes choose to differentiate themselves by engaging in bizarre and often repulsive behaviors which reward them with special identities and status while simultaneously revealing a darker, hidden side of sports.2 Athletes’ desire for entertainment, bragging rights, and one-upmanship often motivate an array of outrageous behaviors which raise both questions and eye-brows even when they remain confined to all-male athletic environments. At the same time, a variety of deviant practices can and do make their way into the public domain, which dramatically increases the potential risks and negative impact for everyone involved. It will become apparent that all-male sports environments encourage bizarre and outrageous behaviors even though some are harmful, demeaning, and have the potential to create all kinds of problems and consequences.
SEXUAL ANTICS OR HOMOEROTICISM?
Athletes spend tremendous amounts of time training, socializing, and living together which results in deep histories and friendships within certain teams. This is particularly true at the collegiate level where players can spend four or five years together on a team. As a result of their bonding, many athletes feel very safe and comfortable with their teammates, and this is reflected in players’ language as well as their behaviors.3 Since the locker room is the predominant safe haven where athletes spend extensive time together, it is logical to assume that some uninhibited displays and clowning will involve sexual behaviors in this secluded environment. For example, a wrestler and a collegiate baseball and hockey player described a variety of sexual antics and nudity among collegiate teammates in this way:
I mean in a shower you did all kinds of stupid things, you know, put hot water in your mouth and hold your dick and put it on like you spit it out, as if you’re peeing on him, stupid stuff like that…I mean, you know, when there were a bunch of guys sitting there talking in a room about the girl they laid and some guy’s grabbing himself and wanting to expose himself and show him that he’s got a hard on, that’s about extent of [it] you know, [and] everybody saying you know, “Get the hell out of here, what are you doing?” yea we had a couple of guys that just wanted to show off I think at times.
I remember there was one sick guy [laughs] on the fucking baseball team…he wasn’t circumcised and in the shower…as a practical joke…he was always messing with [it], he’d fill up his fucking…dick…the extra skin with water and walk over to him and fucking spray him, which is probably one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen [laughs] in my life. And he’d do it on a regular occasion, but other than that man, nothing crazy.
…in the showers, people are always…making a comment about somebody else’s penis or toweling some guy in the ass, or dropping the soap – all just in play…you see that. We had a guy my freshman year who always came in and made a comment about…somebody else’s piece (penis) everyday. He’d just walk in, staring, look around. He’d be the first guy in and last guy [out], and…it was just him being weird or whatever. Nothing ever sexual or homosexual about it…
While most sexual antics were described as nothing more than demented practical jokes promoting humor, homoeroticism is another possible interpretation of certain behaviors. Homoeroticism, defined as sexual attraction or desire toward members of the same sex, is thought to occur whenever bonding activities involve genital contact and exposure through events such as group masturbation, sexualized initiations, and same-sex group nudity.4 Moreover, the description of the athlete’s constant fixation on his teammates’ genitals in the third narrative seemed to suggest this possibility. However, researchers, who observed an array of ritualized sexual behaviors including naked male-to-male contact and even genital touching among rugby players, noted that these acts should not be construed as actual homosexual behavior but rather an extension of their masculine competition from the match.5 Whether sexual antics reflect humorous entertainment or homoeroticism is irrelevant in light of the fact that these behaviors did not always stop at the locker room’s door as another collegiate hockey player discussed in this way:
Just a lot of nudity…I mean I lived with eight [hockey] guys. There was always naked dudes walking around the house and other times at parties guys would get naked, just with other guys around, just to be stupid. Actually on bus rides a lot of guys – if someone was sleeping, a guy would get a hard on and walk over and stick it in his ear, something like that, you know, just to screw with him. There was a lot of that stuff, mostly just nudity. Sometimes…for some reason we would “gear down” [a teammate] and take pictures of him and there was nothing he could do about it…just take all his clothes off and he’d be fighting and kicking and just…take pictures of him. He’d be fighting for his clothes and fighting for the door [laughing], all that stuff…[it] took about four of us usually…we used to get [one teammate] when he was taking naps [laughing]… and we’d go all around his room, just jump on him…just start taking all his clothes off, and put him in a room and just start taking pictures of him. We’d get some good action photos of him…trying to fight [laughter].
After detailing a “gear down” attack on an unsuspecting teammate, this athlete discussed the motive by saying, “Boredom I’d say, just nothing to do…it seemed like the right thing to do at the time [laughing]...it’d be like picking a mine field.” Obviously, these attacks were somewhat demeaning because the victim was helpless to defend himself against four athletes, and they were photographed. Because no one wants embarrassing pictures appearing unexpectedly in places including The Internet, this is perhaps another reason victims fought so hard during these attacks. Furthermore, the appearance of nude photographs is no laughing matter since it has resulted in severe consequences for athletes, and this was noted when two University of Nebraska wrestlers were dismissed from their team after allegedly posing naked for an Internet pornography site.6 However, premeditated attacks on teammates undoubtedly alleviated boredom and proved to be extremely humorous entertainment that was later shared with others. It will be evident that the desire to entertain teammates through humorous story-telling is a powerful catalyst for engaging in these and other deviant behaviors.
NAKED INHIBITIONS AND EXHIBITIONISM
Not all nudity happens within the confines of the team locker room or at athletes’ residence because accounts of public exposure also appear in this study. Moreover, nudity spilling into the public sector can result in legal charges involving indecent exposure in addition to other consequences. Indecent exposure laws in most states make it a crime to purposefully display one’s genitals or socially deemed “private parts” in public causing alarm or offense often for the purpose of sexual excitement and satisfaction or social rebellion.7 While indecent exposure is a legal term for public nudity, it is used interchangeably with exhibitionism, which is a specific mental health disorder and paraphilia describing uncommon sexual expression.8 Exhibitionism occurs when someone intentionally exposes their genitals to an unwilling observer typically for the purpose of sexual gratification, and this can involve masturbation in the moment or at a later time.9 Often, exhibitionists are males targeting young adults, adolescents, or children of the opposite sex, and the age of onset for exhibitionism begins in the middle teen years and the mid-20s.10 In this study, exhibitionism will also include consensual sexual activities performed for others and public nudity without sexual intent, which could include open urination or defecation and behaviors like streaking (i.e., running naked in public).
More than one third of all males arrested for sexual offenses are arrested for exhibitionism, and 40-60% of college and community samples of women have reported being victims of exhibitionism.11 According to two studies involving college men, 2-4% had participated in exhibitionism while 7% expressed the desire to do so.12 My observations of exhibitionist behaviors outside the locker room area are limited to one event when as a freshman, I was taking pictures of my collegiate teammates outside the dormitory when a number of them decided to expose themselves in a variety of ways to be humorous. Nearly 20% of the participants representing every sport in this study revealed their awareness and/or participation in some type of male exhibitionism often in combination with other behaviors. For example, a minor league baseball player and a collegiate football player described their awareness and/or participation in exhibitionism in this way:
…you know [laughing] one night, teammates were in their apartment drinking and one of the guys got a little bit crazy and took…I think he was a sophomore at the time, drove him across campus, and they stripped naked in the car, and kicked him out of the car, and he had to make his way back naked, which again I think the guy got a rush out of it cause then they just started running around campus naked on occasion, just because he wanted to.
…it seemed like in the off season whenever you were bored it always leads to mischievous things you know. One night we were sitting, it was a tradition that kind of faded…but three years prior to us doing it, there was a tradition that starts from the apartment and [you] streak down to the middle of the campus and take a picture in front of the student store…that’s where everybody had hung out during class time and so one night we were bored and said, “Alright, we’re going to streak down” which is about a mile and a half in front of all the apartments and the dorms so we just…got in our baseball caps and our tennis shoes and five of us…ran down you know one night and had cops chasing us and streaked down and back, took a picture, and just something to do.
Boredom, alcohol consumption, tradition, and the desire to be “crazy” fueled these collegiate athletes’ decision to “streak” through campus which produced an adrenaline “rush” as well as the desire to repeat this event. While “streaking” is generally considered harmless and humorous, it can still produce legal and team problems when athletes are caught.
Not all athletes who engage in public nudity are college age or have the desire to run away following their public exposure. For example, MLB player, Rick Bosetti, was refused service at one upscale restaurant during his career which perhaps stripped him of his dignity; this prompted Bosetti on his next visit to reveal his displeasure and social rebellion by disrobing in the men’s room and walking naked through the dining room and out the door.13 Some athletes display even greater boldness by refusing to leave the scene of their exhibitionism as one minor league hockey player discussed in this manner:
…just a couple of years ago…in a pick-up league…some of them were just guys [who never played pro hockey] but…I’d say two thirds of them guys [played professionally] – They came into town…we had a tournament here…and they rented…a private dining room, and they all got sat down and…two waitresses came in and took their orders…when they left, everybody stripped down naked…and they were all sitting there naked and here come the waitress back with their food. I guess it was funny, the way they described it…
The stereotype of the dirty old man engaging in exhibitionism in parks with sneakers and a raincoat is untrue since most offenders are in their 20s and 30s with over half being married or formerly married.14 Surprisingly, these older athletes matching this profile disregarded logic and reasoning by exposing themselves as a large group even though their exhibitionism was probably not sexually driven. Moreover, the previous participant discussed the motives for this by saying, “It’s just…you get 15 guys together, everybody tries to out-do everybody else…just doing something more bizarre [chuckles].” It is evident that some bizarre behaviors, including exhibitionism, happen because athletes’ competitive nature creates a desire to “outdo” their teammates. Furthermore, the desire to engage in outrageous acts does not simply end because the men were older and retired from professional competition. Because one third of the group did not play professionally, it is possible that these players felt peer pressure to conform to the group’s antics and expectations. It is also evident that athletes’ passion for telling captivating stories at any age occurs because it enhances someone’s reputation whenever these stories are retold, and this subsequently raises the bar for other athletes to engage in even more bizarre behaviors. Although outrageous stories circulate to create both entertainment and one-upmanship, engaging in exhibitionism is probably not the best decision since this is disturbing and abusive to many victims and has the potential for legal ramifications that can negatively influence the men’s personal reputations, families, and careers.
While athletes’ exhibitionism in the previous narratives does not appear to be fueled by their desire for sexual gratification or arousal, this is not always the case. Indeed, some athletes have taken their exhibitionism to extremes by carrying it into social settings on campus, and in the process, intentionally crossed paths with females. For example, a wrestler and a minor league hockey player noted their awareness of exhibitionism during their collegiate careers in this way:
…he was well endowed anyway so he didn’t have a problem with just flipping his dick out and walking around the house and kind of flaunting it. We would have parties and he would pull it out of his pants and walk around and talk to girls and wait until one of them would notice and you know that was his way of meeting girls and he actually met quite a few who thought that was an endearment that they needed to seek further and so I think for him…it was, “I got a big dick and I’m going to show everybody” so that’s kind of like…how he worked.
…there was one incident…[a hockey] player…I remember there was a party and he was chasing some girls across campus with his pants down and…this guy was hung like a horse you know – so we were at a party and all these girls [you’d have] thought it was like the first time they had ever seen a dick you know, and that was just funny and…everyone knew that [happened] but…everybody kept quiet about that.
Exhibitionists have been portrayed as narcissists deriving pleasure from seeing themselves nude, providing a service or kindness by exposing themselves, and wishing to be envied for possession of a penis.15 Although one study revealed that all of the exhibitionists in the sample preferred targeting adult women, 79% exposed themselves occasionally to females 15 years of age or younger.16 Another noteworthy finding revealed exhibitionists are not always passive, inhibited individuals because 20% had a history of violence-related offenses that included rape and sexual assault as exhibitionism was used to entrap, demean, and incite fear through power and control tactics.17 Therefore, exhibitionism is not always a humorous, harmless behavior because its association with sexual violence for some offenders is undeniable.
Still, many athletes find exhibitionism entertaining although there is nothing humorous when law enforcement officials identify an offender since this can create serious problems and consequences for coaches, teams, and players. These notions were highlighted in the book, When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow, which detailed Lance Rentzel’s exhibitionism that targeted female children in Minnesota and Dallas during his NFL career.18 Although child molestation or pedophilia and exhibitionism are often confused and sometimes overlap because children are victimized, the pedophile seeks bodily contact while the exhibitionist wishes to be seen and sometimes, but not in the Rentzel case, masturbating.19 Therapy helped Rentzel to realize the pressure he felt to please his family and prove his masculinity repeatedly through football and sexual conquests with women.20 Exhibitionism during times of stress was seen as another way for Rentzel to prove his masculinity.21 However, Rentzel’s exhibitionism resulted in extreme criticism and negative publicity for him and his family, the demise of his marriage to a leading actress, sitting out a portion of the season while his team played in the 1970 Super Bowl, and the possibility of serving 12-15 years in prison since indecent exposure involving children under 16 years of age in Texas is a potential felony.22 In the end, Rentzel received probation and was court ordered to undergo therapy; however, he was not the only major league athlete charged with exhibitionism.23 During his Hall of Fame NHL career, Dino Ciccarelli also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure in 1988 and received probation after a neighbor reported that she had repeatedly seen him exposing himself.24 More recently, former University of Southern California and current Cincinnati Bengals defensive end, Frostee Rucker, lost his first football scholarship at Colorado State University in the spring of 2002 following accusations of his involvement in two sexual assaults and an indecent exposure incident.25 Rucker pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor harassment charge and received a one-year deferred sentence.26 While exhibitionism is alarming and can lead to legal ramifications, perhaps this is a symptom of deeper issues as some athletes go beyond public displays of nudity by engaging in behaviors that are much more sexually explicit and perverse.
EXAMINING MASTURBATION AMONG ELITE-LEVEL ATHLETES
Masturbation, or self stimulation of the genitals for the purpose of sexual pleasure, has evolved from a condemned practice that was thought to be abnormal and mentally and physically debilitating by physicians and authorities alike to one that has gained acceptance as normal behavior among significant percentages of people of all ages.27 Dr. Alfred Kinsey and colleagues reported that 92% of the men surveyed masturbated by age 20 (most began between ages 13 and 15) while many of the 58% of females who reported masturbating began in early adulthood.28 Masturbation is thought to provide a release from sexual tension and the opportunity to explore sexual functioning although many adolescents overlook these positives by responding only to the negative messages that can produce guilt following these practices.29 However, guilt is not a universal response for all adolescents or young men because some males athletes have turned private masturbation practices into open displays that can include group events sometimes referred to as “circle jerks.”30 While sexualized initiations and rites of passage are not new to certain athlete cultures, the fact that approximately one third of the participants in this study, who competed in careers that spanned the 1970s through 2010, were able to discuss a variety of sexualized behaviors occurring within all-male team settings, not linked to initiations, suggests that such practices abound within certain athletic teams.31
My personal encounter with sexualized practices occurring apart from team initiations happened when I was 18-years-old and playing Junior A hockey in Quebec, Canada. Junior hockey or simply “juniors” is considered elite-level hockey because it is among the highest caliber of amateur competition available for players ages 15-20 and less than 5% of all youngsters registered with the Canadian Minor Hockey Association achieve the Junior A or B levels of competition.32 Juniors can act as a stepping-stone to collegiate and/or professional hockey in much the same way that collegiate football and basketball act as the training ground for players to advance to the professional level in these sports.
A group masturbation event occurred when my junior team was on the bus returning from a game and about half of the team were congregating and making quite a bit of noise. I went to investigate what I thought was gambling and realized that two players were masturbating in what seemed to be some type of competition since the cheering encouraged the players to continue. Many junior hockey players live far from their parents and friends, which means that teams act as surrogate families. Team friendships, therefore, become extremely important because few, if any, male friendships develop outside of some teams. Because many players feel bonded as well as uninhibited around each other, open displays of masturbation occurring within certain junior teams were not uncommon as a collegiate hockey player discussed in this way:
…you know the hockey players are usually more open about sexual activity than any other group, sports teams that I’ve played on…but I think guys you know talk about masturbation all the time – they don’t care…some guys are, you know willing to just sit there and be playing with their dong right in front of you…anybody, they don’t really care…I knew guys that used to…jerk off at the same time…in their hotel room and stuff like that…guys are watching a porno in there and three guys jerking off…I didn’t hear about that stuff until I’d say I was in high school playing juniors and not too often.
The previous participant experienced the hockey world as one of the most sexually liberal cultures along with lacrosse, although lacrosse players were not interviewed for the study. While masturbation occurred among certain teammates openly as well as sporadically in groups, two minor league hockey players discussed a higher prevalence of these practices in this way:
…I remember in juniors was the first time I ever saw someone spank off (masturbate) right in front of you…a guy on the team bus sitting there with a Playboy. I looked over at him and I was like, “Holy hell!” He goes, “Look the other way…you’re killing my buzz (erection) here,” [laughing] and he’s spanking it off [laughing] – Yeah, I remember that kid, I don’t know whatever happened to him – probably not much…there was things like that I mean, yeah, [in] college – college, a lot of guys…
All through juniors there was porn on the bus, [and] there were guys sitting around beating off to it. You know, circle jerks, to see who could get off first [laughs], all that stuff, but for the most part it’s harmless. Nobody’s doing it that doesn’t want to do it…[in] juniors it happened a lot. These guys always used to bring their dicks out on the bus, play around with it, get hard first, get off first, and that kind of thing. At the time I could see that an outside observer, someone who’s not involved with hockey, how they could be taken back by it – like, “What the hell are you guys doing? Are you all gay?” [laughs]. I’ll have to admit, when I was around it, I didn’t really think much of it. I didn’t personally do it, I didn’t care to do it, but I thought it was funny…I’d just have to laugh and go back to sleep or whatever I was doing. It didn’t screw me up mentally. I just thought they were goofy guys [laughs] getting stupid. Whatever innate sexual tendencies were there, I don’t know either…
The previous participants described open displays of both individual and group masturbation as frequent events during road trips among both American and Canadian junior hockey players as well as among collegiate athletes. Interestingly, the final participant mentioned homoeroticism as a potential motive based on the frequency and nature of these practices which could be construed by outsiders as having homosexual undertones. Despite their actions, players who masturbated openly were not considered homosexuals by their teammates. Furthermore, the fact that each of the previous participants mentioned masturbation occurring in the presence of pornography, which was readily available in one form or another, highlights another potential danger associated with these practices. Dr. Alex Kwee and his colleagues found through clinical experience that the vast majority of college men who struggled with compulsive masturbation also used pornography to accompany these behaviors.33 This tendency was further highlighted in another study that showed pornography played a significant role in fueling the addictions of 90% of the male sex addicts who were surveyed.34 Because the world is full of distorted sexuality norms and easy access to pornography, many individuals, including athletes, face the challenge of differentiating between normal, appropriate masturbation practices and those escalating into unhealthy excess and compulsivity that are addictive and not easily overcome.35 Interestingly, one of the previous participants further elaborated on these experiences as well as other underlying motives fueling masturbation practices in this way:
Well circle jerks – I only saw two or three of those [laughs] but the porn and beat off sessions – that was a pretty regular occurrence…it was more like if you want to sit around and beat off, then go ahead, if you don’t want to that’s cool too…I was at parties where I saw some of that stuff going on, but I wasn’t forced to do it. You know circle jerks and that…in most cases it’s light-hearted [laughs]. Guys were doing it because it was funny. Whatever makes them feel like a part of the team…that’s the way I looked at it. You know, that shit feels good – can’t be that bad…I’ve thought about [motives for] that – some of it is camaraderie. I think that for some guys, too, actually it may be kind of hot for them. They’re not gay, but it’s still like a sexual thing to be sitting around with your guys talking about your girlfriends and what they do to them…I mean, they’re not getting off on the guy next to you because you can see his rod (penis) or anything. It’s just more or less like just sitting around watching porn all night. It’s just a sexual atmosphere and they’re all charged up and the next thing you know – they snap one off (masturbate) [laughs]. I had a little bit harder time figuring that one out than I do some of the issues behind violence. I’m not as in tune with that stuff as much…I have my opinions and ideas about what makes certain guys do it or whatever. I think that you can’t be shy. I think that you have to be a relatively open person – a real extrovert to be able to do that kind of stuff – and I’m not on that end of the continuum.
The above participant differentiated group masturbation or “circle jerks” from a teammate individually masturbating while watching pornography in the presence of others. Moreover, group masturbation was described as a pleasurable, “light-hearted” activity occurring sometimes at parties “because it was funny,” and entertaining to peers. Themes of “camaraderie” and “feeling like a part of the team” also highlighted players’ desire for group acceptance by participating in masturbation; this also suggests high levels of closeness and bonding among teammates. Although the players who masturbated were not labeled as homosexuals once again, they would become sexually aroused from the combination of viewing pornography, discussing their own heterosexual activities with women, and perhaps the homoeroticism of this event as well. Because some players felt extremely connected and at ease with others on their team, masturbation in the presence of teammates was not considered an unusual event. However, high levels of team bonding, which result in events including group masturbation, have the potential to desensitize males to these and other sexual practices so that in time, this may lead to more perverse sexualized behaviors.
MASTURBATION AMONG COLLEGIATE ATHLETES
College is a time of increasing sexual experiences for many students who are free from parental authority.36 One study of college undergraduates revealed that 64% of females and 98% of the males masturbated in the past with the men masturbating on an average of 36 times in the past three months; the higher frequencies occurred among males who believed their peers masturbated frequently and found it pleasurable.37 Indeed, masturbation is considered normal developmental behavior that can be influenced by its perceived pleasure and acceptance within one’s peer group. Moreover, a wrestler discussed camaraderie as a catalyst for certain sexual antics among his collegiate teammates by saying, “We were a pretty close group and so it wasn’t nothing new to get a magazine and get an erection and see who had the biggest dick and you know compare them…just, that’s what you did.” Similarly, a collegiate basketball player revealed, “You’re so close, you know to each other, so much…you know smacking somebody on their behind…or you know you be bored at the study table and nobody’s looking and you might have an erection and pull it out and everybody start laughing – something like that.” Participants from every sport revealed various homoerotic antics although basketball players were the only athletes in this study that did not engage in open or group masturbation for reasons that will be discussed later. In contrast, narratives from a wrestler, a minor league baseball player, and a collegiate hockey player revealed group masturbation among certain collegiate teammates in this way:
I know of a situation one time where [laughs]…two guys were at a hotel and they rented one [a porn] from the TV and one of them said to the other, “Okay let’s put a pillow between the two of us so it’s not homosexual” you know something like that. I mean…it was just out in the open as far as that, but…they were masturbating, and…so it wouldn’t be homosexual, they put a pillow between them…[it] didn’t go on often, it was these two guys were just out there…
Yea [laughing] there was guys that would talk about, you know, they’re sitting there you know watching the movie and some guy’s you know masturbating underneath his you know blanket or whatever…and the funny part to me is that it didn’t seem to phase them. That guy that said that he was doing it, it was just, “You know, okay whatever, you know what else are you going to do when you’re watching a porn?” There was never any – to my knowledge – there was never any homosexual activity on any of the teams that I’ve been on but you know masturbating in bathrooms and masturbating in front of other guys – that was not a rare occurrence…these guys were you know four guys living in their own apartment and they just told stories when they came to practice…it happened for sure [but] it was pretty much the same guys over and over again to be honest with you…
I mean, I wouldn’t find it uncommon if I was walking down the bus to see someone masturbating right there…[and] jerking-off. And, I’m not sure what type of mentality we had, hard to say…that wasn’t common with a lot of other teams and a lot of guys would be surprised to hear that…one player put it from [another university] that there are a lot of a homosexual undertones with your team. And I was like…“Well no one’s gay so what the hell, we don’t care having a good time…we think it’s funny when we’re on the bus for eight hours”...
Together these participants clearly reinforced the notion that masturbation practices were not intended to promote homosexuality with teammates or even an inclination toward this particular orientation. Instead, participants routinely described masturbation as common and occurring in conjunction with pornography within certain close-knit teams for the purpose of alleviating boredom while providing entertainment. The third participant noted that although onlookers viewed certain practices as having “homosexual undertones,” masturbation was readily accepted as normal because teammates found this behavior extremely humorous. Because the prevalence and acceptance of pornography appears to be very influential in promoting masturbation within certain teams, and not all athletes have strong interests in pornography, this may be one feasible explanation for why open displays of masturbation do not occur within all teams.
MASTURBATION AMONG PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES
Open masturbation was not limited to amateur athletes because two baseball minor leaguers and a hockey minor leaguer revealed masturbation practices among professional athletes in this way:
…in the pros…with the Latin guys…I mean I don’t know if they did it all the time or not, but I heard two stories about it, just them – I wouldn’t even say stories – just like the next day when you came into the clubhouse they were like, “Oh yeah,” [I] went over and see them sitting on the couch going at it [masturbating] watching the porn…
Some of the guys on the team…two or three I think, went to one of these little sex shops and bought…some anal beads and some other stuff and…you know as a joke…the kid sticks them up his butt and starts, you know that [masturbation] type of thing…you know you have some guys who are very open, you know, walk around naked all over and you have other guys who cover up. But when it comes to homosexual [acts] or as guys are together – other than that instance – that was a one-time deal. I can’t think of anything else…that was [in] pro.
…the most unusual thing I’ve seen in 15 years of pro hockey was a guy jerk off and shooting his load…on the team bus, where there’s nothing but guys…we were parked in the parking lot and he was watching some girl in the parking lot and he just started jerking off and…blew his load…I’ve never seen any homosexuality…things or nothing too goofy. I’ve never seen…no sick shit between guys…fortunately [chuckles]. I think too many guys would take offense to it and stop it before something ever would happen. I’ve never even actually heard of anything…just with guys.
Each of the above participants noted open displays of masturbation occurring individually as well as among groups of athletes during their minor league careers. Surprisingly, the third participant thought this situation, along with other sexually deviant group behaviors subsequently revealed, was not considered abnormal because an athlete’s reference group determines what is normal from what is not. Homosexuality was clearly unacceptable when teams labeled it as such. Because it appears that certain levels of camaraderie need to exist for open or group masturbation to occur, this may explain why approximately 5% of participants with minor league experience in baseball and hockey exclusively reported these practices compared to nearly 20% of participants representing virtually every sport who noted these behaviors among collegiate athletes. Stronger team bonding appears to be more common at the collegiate level compared to many professional teams because collegiate athletes often play together longer while spending large amounts of time socializing and living together. In contrast, major league baseball players noted that teammates often did not socialize together in larger groups outside of the locker room because many were married, it drew too much attention, and their friendships were diversified. This did not hold true for many minor leaguers who bond and socialize together in larger groups as a result of the time spent traveling together and living in close proximity. However, team bonding in professional sports and particularly at the minor league level is affected by the significant turnover of players within teams from one year to the next as athletes retire, join new teams and leagues, or get traded. Interestingly, a wrestler noted the importance male bonding as a catalyst for sexually deviant practices by saying, “I don’t know if it’s just athletes. I think anytime you’re in a group of guys, you’ll do stupid things. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re athletes. I don’t think that. I just think being with people you’re more comfortable with you’re gonna do more things.” This participant’s belief that peer bonding as opposed to athletic participation was responsible for sexual deviancy and/or aggression among athletes and non-athletes alike was, in fact, supported by an abundance of research findings.38 This may also help to explain other fundamental differences when comparing an array of sexual practices involving professional and collegiate players.
MASTURBATION AS A BASKETBALL TABOO
The majority of all-male sexual practices discussed throughout this chapter appeared within the sports of hockey, football, baseball, and wrestling but not in basketball. This phenomenon was examined and a collegiate basketball player offered one explanation by saying, “Oh no…we didn’t do anything like that…like a group masturbation, uh ah [making a negative sound]…that would get you more [chuckles] more ostracized than anything.” This participant revealed group masturbation as a taboo and although homoerotic behaviors were previously mentioned among collegiate basketball players, they did not include open or group masturbation. Furthermore, two minor league basketball players provided additional insights into why open masturbation practices were forbidden acts:
I’ve never even heard of anything like that from any athletes, I’ve heard of stuff like that with, you know, just some college guys that would have like some weird video situations going on…I heard one situation where guys would circle jerk around a pizza or something like that and watch porns and stuff like that and…some of the more strange sexual experiences, I heard a lot of wild things like that from like the lacrosse team…I’ve never seen anything like that or heard anything like that with basketball players no, because anything like that would be looked at as heavily gay, and not too many guys are willing – at least that I’ve met through my career – that would be willing to potentially close the thought processes of being possibly gay.
That’s a foreign language for my culture as a basketball player when I hear about porn and group masturbation I’m like, “Really?” cause I can’t fathom that. I can’t even imagine a group of basketball players sitting around when I was playing and a group masturbation occurring. Now porn thrown in with five guys and three women, you’ve got a different dynamic and there will be sex acts performed, but it won’t be group masturbation – guys will try their best to make sure they’re not touching each other – that’s what’s going to happen in our world. When you talked about homosexuality [acts], I know for sure a basketball player wouldn’t admit to it – anything pertaining to homosexuality a basketball player is going to shut off – and…I want to say it’s because…especially now, it’s so dominated by African American males and that’s not a subject we’re talking about – whether it’s happening or not – we’re not going there. So…I would almost bet that you’re going to get a lot of, “It just wouldn’t happen,” almost a denial…
Although the previous African American athletes clearly reinforced the notion that open or group masturbation was unacceptable and “looked at as heavily gay,” the first participant was aware of college students and members of the lacrosse team engaging in these practices. Similarly, the second participant mentioned that any discussion of group masturbation was “denied” – even if it was occurring – because African Americans racially dominated basketball and these behaviors were considered homosexual acts. Therefore, any behaviors that could label African American basketball players as homosexuals were conversationally off limits. Researchers provided additional insights when they discovered that self-identifying heterosexual men who engaged in sex with other men do so with secrecy, and this was particularly true for African American men who are less likely to disclose their gay identity because the black community is less accepting of homosexuality compared to the white community.39 It also appears that masturbation practices are more rooted in culture than athletics because researchers found that although 67% of Caucasian and Latino-American men and 61% Asian-American men had masturbated within the past year, only 40% of African-American men reported engaging in these behaviors – perhaps because of its perceived stigma.40 At the same time, this participant implied that group sex with multiple partners from both sexes was completely acceptable and even expected. Indeed, various sports teams and cultures and even racial groups within a team make it very clear about the kinds of sexual behaviors that are acceptable as well as those that can get someone shunned.
Homophobia, defined as the irrational fear of homosexuals or the possibility of homosexuality in oneself, is a strong, prevalent influence dictating athletes acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.41 Moreover, homophobia has prompted some gay athletes to openly express disgust for homosexuality out of fear that they would be discovered or stigmatized by their teammates.42 And yet, homosexual behaviors are not uncommon among both non-athletes and athletes. Comparisons from several large-scale studies revealed that while 3-5% of men in the general population described themselves as homosexual, the Kinsey data revealed that 37% of all males had at least one homosexual experience resulting in orgasm in adulthood.43 One study involving intercollegiate athletes from three major sports at several large state universities revealed 6% of the athletes were homosexual while 25% had a homosexual experience (i.e., engaging in two or more incidences involving oral-genital or anal-genital sex in the past two years).44 More recent research on university team-sport athletes revealed that less than 4% have engaged in same-sex sex.45 Interestingly, a February 27th, 2006 Sports Illustrated magazine poll of 1,401 professional team-sport athletes that showed the majority (and 80% of National Hockey League players) would welcome a gay teammate suggests homophobia may be declining. Based on such statistics and behaviors, it was not surprising when an experienced NHL player revealed an obvious explanation for some of the all-male sexual practices:
You know I would say that as I think about it, the society that we live in today when it comes to sex…there’s a greater number of hockey players – and I know a lot of athletes – but from the hockey aspect…there are more hockey players that are – I’ll call them switch hitters that…you know don’t mind being with girls, but then also are attracted to guys and you know live a different lifestyle that’s more of a closet type of lifestyle when it comes to…being gay or being attracted to other guys…I mean I sensed it a little when I was playing early in my career and then as I got older and played longer, you hear things, you see things…and then as I retired and coached you can feel that…I mean if somebody would ask me, “Is there a strong population of guys that are both?” I don’t want to say a large number, but I think it’s bigger than people think it would be. I would probably have to say…league-wide…there’s no doubt in my mind that…it’s probably one every two teams…that is bi- or homosexual…you know it’s a small number, but I think it’s a lot more than what people would ever think.
The previous participant noted a silent minority of bisexual and homosexual players compete within National Hockey League teams, and it would be logical to assume that similar percentages exist among collegiate and professional athletes in other sports as well. Athletes such as former NFL running back David Kopay and offensive guard Roy Simmons, MLB players Glenn Burke (deceased) and Billy Bean, and former NBA player John Amaechi revealed their homosexuality although for some, this resulted in being shunned from the sports world.46 In the end, it is understandable why most athletes choose to conceal their homosexual orientation because this enables them to avoid discrimination and potential banishment from a culture that continues to condemn alternative lifestyles. It also provides another explanation for some athletes’ participation in open and group masturbation within various sports cultures.
MASTURBATION AS A DEVIANT PRACTICE
While masturbation is generally considered a benign behavior, there are exceptions to this particularly when masturbation involves blatantly open displays, compulsivity and mental fixation, or when it combines with other demeaning practices. One collegiate hockey coach observed his team’s attachment to pornography that often occurred in conjunction with discussions of personal masturbation practices in this way:
…we don’t let them watch it [pornography] on the bus, but…they certainly clamor for it – I know when we’re at hotels…on the road, they’ll rent the soft porn stuff that’s on the hotel [channels]…they pay for it because…they can’t charge it to us…but I still know what’s going on because you hear them talking about it – “Hey, did you guys watch? you know, this went on last night” – I’ve never seen them do anything with group masturbation or anything like that, but they talk so openly about the fact that they themselves masturbate and things like that – and…I think you know that 99% of all men masturbate, [and] the other 1% are liars – the point is don’t talk about it like it’s no big deal…even if you did it – Why do you brag about it?…they’ll make comments about, “Oh yea…I’ve shot my load on her picture before”…I don’t need to know that, I don’t need to hear about it…realizing these guys are doing it, but they talk about it openly...
This participant was obviously troubled by his team’s fixation with pornography as well as their open discussions flaunting masturbation while revealing seedy personal practices (i.e., “I’ve shot my load on her picture”); however, males are more likely to fantasize during masturbation, report their sexual fantasies, and reveal becoming sexually aroused from their fantasies compared to females.47 At the same time, masturbation is still considered a solitary sex act that remains somewhat stigmatized, is not as openly discussed as other sexual activities, and is linked with guilt and various myths.48 Nevertheless, it is apparent that certain groups of athletes have succeeded in making private behaviors extremely public; however, the greater problem involves engaging in compulsive and/or decadent masturbation practices in an effort to one-up teammates. For example, one minor league baseball player revealed, “We had guys that probably jerked off everyday for sure – absolutely everyday.” Like previous narratives that raised questions suggestive of compulsive masturbation among certain athletes, this participant noted similar patterns occurring among his collegiate teammates. Sexual compulsivity or addiction is defined by the use of masturbation or sex to cope with unpleasant or uncontrollable emotions including anxiety or depression.49 Addiction is also associated with compulsivity, dependency, repetition, and continuation of behaviors in spite of significant harmful consequences, and because the compulsive person lacks adaptive coping skills to regulate unpleasant emotional states, sexual stimulation is used instead.50 It is apparent that one’s mindset and motives for engaging in masturbation are important factors influencing the development of sexual behaviors that become out of control.
Besides the potential for engaging in compulsive masturbation, one collegiate baseball player revealed other inappropriate practices by saying, “Oh man, [one] knucklehead actually fucking masturbated and spewed in the guy’s glove and put it in the freshman’s locker…he did it like a couple of times to different guys, you know, till guys really start paying attention and looking.” Whether this athlete was seeking attention and notoriety for his actions or perhaps developing a sexual fetish is not known for certain, but in either case, teammates found his practices both entertaining and “disgusting.” Fetishism refers to sexual behaviors in which a person obtains sexual excitement primarily from contact with inanimate objects or certain body parts.51 While it is possible, though unlikely, that this athlete was developing a fetish with baseball gloves, clothing such as underwear or bras as well as people’s feet have been noted as common fetishes that produce sexual arousal for some people.52
In addition, other types of deviant masturbation practices were revealed by a wrestler and a minor league hockey player in this way:
[Laughing] I had a couple teammates that were big into that and I had one teammate who was into it to the point that he didn’t care if you would be sitting there watching him, he would beat off [masturbate] and do stuff like that just because he needed to, and so it didn’t matter what it was, it’s just what he did [laughing]...he was the main one but…then when we were on road trips if you fell asleep, he would try to masturbate and shoot it on you just because you fell asleep and that’s kind of what he did [laughing] – that was his thing…and so I think for him, it wasn’t so much homosexual-heterosexual it was, “I got a big dick and I’m going to show everybody”…
…I remember this…kid in college [hockey], it was like before every game, he would make himself get a hard-on. It was the weirdest thing…this kid was a freshman at the time…he was sitting over there and we’d be in our normal ritual time, like thinking about the game, getting dressed, you know quiet, and he’d go, “Hey!” Just to get us to look over. And he’d say, “Check this out!” And we’d be like, “What the hell is that kid [doing]?”…and this would be like every game. It would be to the point where you’d forget about it because you’d be in your game mode and he’d do this thing. And it was every game…
Both of the above participants appeared to be describing paraphilias or uncommon types of sexual expression, which involved collegiate athletes’ inappropriate masturbation patterns as well as exhibitionism.53 Although exhibitionism usually involves exposing one’s genitals (with or without masturbation) to an unsuspecting stranger of the opposite sex, it is apparent that teammates can be targeted as well.54 However, the first participant’s statement, “I got a big dick and I’m going to show everybody” describing his teammate’s attitude that prompted him to regularly ejaculate on unsuspecting teammates during road trips was unquestionably humiliating. Moreover, these events along with this wrestler’s inclination to expose his genitals to females seemed to suggest exhibitionism as an authentic disorder. While the second participant also noted exhibitionism when a teammate consistently called attention to his masturbation and erection during preparation for games, it appeared that this player was using masturbation and exhibitionism as a way to cope with his pre-game tension and stress. This can be likened to former NFL player Lance Rentzel.55 Because most athletes find these practices both entertaining and humorous, offending athletes are rewarded for their deviant practices making them more likely to continue.
Deviant masturbation practices were not relegated to collegiate athletes because a minor league hockey player noted these practices during his professional career:
It was a road trip. I can’t remember where it was to but the radio announcer…was in his seat, sleeping…well, they used to put the luggage up top [in the bus] – some of the guys would get up there and sleep. Well, one guy got up there and started masturbating and ejaculated [laughs] all over the guy below him that was sleeping, the radio announcer [laughing] and…that’s the only time I’ve seen anything like that. And you know…I don’t think it was done out of harm, and…I don’t know if the guy really even knew what it was…nobody claimed who did it, so he never knew what happened or who did it…
Unlike the previous collegiate athlete who openly ejaculated on sleeping teammates, no one on this participant’s team confessed to this event perhaps because the perpetrator realized it was a perverse and demeaning act. Furthermore, admitting to this behavior could negatively influence a professional athlete’s reputation, career, and his consideration as a team leader and role model. Still, this does not change every professional athlete’s behavior because although deviant masturbation practices were not found among major leaguers in my sample, they still occur. For example, in his book, Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty, author Jeff Pearlman documented former NFL lineman Charles Haley’s frequent displays of open masturbation occurring within the locker room, the trainer’s room, and even during positional team meetings with two different NFL teams.56 Moreover, Haley became infamous for stroking his phallus near an unsuspecting teammate’s face while making lewd sexual remarks, and his graphic conversations targeting players’ wives while he masturbated sometimes resulted in ejaculation during team meetings.57 In the end, these and other athletes avoided negative consequences for engaging in a variety of inappropriate sexual practices only because their behaviors were confined to all-male athletic environments that did not discourage deviant behavior through consequences.
Competitions Involving Masturbation
Few will disagree that elite-level athletes are extremely competitive, and this trait is arguably one of the most important separating those who compete at the collegiate and professional levels from those who observe these events. Therefore, it was no surprise when researchers, who examined competitiveness in college men and included collegiate club or varsity athletes, found that athletic participation was highly linked with scores of competitiveness, win orientation, and goal orientation.58 Based on the findings from my research, it is also apparent that some athletes’ competitive drive continues away from the playing field and emerges into certain sexual activities, which for some athletes can resemble a type of competition. While competitive sexual events have involved both females and males alike, this discussion will focus on masturbation competitions within all-male groups. In all, about 7% of the participants were aware of masturbation competitions at the high school or collegiate level that occurred apart from team initiations, and nearly 80% of these events involved only collegiate athletes in wrestling, hockey, baseball, or football. For example, one wrestler reported his awareness by saying, “Yea I have heard of them…just of wrestlers talking about their friends and trying to outdo each other and under those circumstances, how far they could shoot their load.” While attempting to “outdo each other” involved ejaculating the farthest, a minor league football player revealed other competitions by saying, “Two guys that were on my [football] team that occasionally had races…[in] college…to see who could get off [and ejaculate] first.” In addition, two wrestlers and a collegiate hockey player noted more elaborate speed-based masturbation contests in this way:
Yea we had two guys who…would race each other to see how fast they could (ejaculate), they would put their times up each week, you know, on the outside of their door, it was in the dorms…these two stole the show…they would do it once a week…I don’t know about their whole career, the one guy ended up failing out, but the first year for sure.
I mean…we had a couple of individuals that they would…have a contest, “Oh I can get off three times in 20 minutes or whatever.” One individual, he was more of our team clown, he would do it, but just as a joke…like he’d bet how many times I can do it, but…I don’t remember it much as a team, but I remember one individual that he was just proud of that fact [laughs] and…there were, you know, times where he would go into a room and he would brag on it, and he was just different in that sense, but it was more of a joke amongst everybody else..
…we used to have a game where you’d sit on the bus and everybody would masturbate just for the hell of it, why not?…you’d just be there, really a lot of times we’d prefer that we should pass the hat and whatever team ejaculates last going up the row of seats – loses…yeah, that scenario was done – not that often – twice a season, passing it up the rows that would just be Jerk-Off Derby, more or less [laughs] – see who can get done the quickest…I didn’t go to prep school…but a lot of guys…their initiation as a rookie is everybody gets in a room, masturbates on a cracker, or a piece of bread and the last guy to go has to eat it. So, that…I’ve heard of…we never pushed it that far [for losing]…
Each of the above athletes described different types of speed-based masturbation competitions involving collegiate teammates as well as the participant himself in the third narrative. It is evident that certain athletes prided themselves on their ability to devise creative, yet deviant masturbation practices, which provided humor and entertainment while increasing notoriety and status for those involved. While the third participant noted that the losers in the masturbation races in which he was involved were not forced to eat their own semen – unlike rookie players during prep school initiations, one minor league baseball player described a similar experience among his collegiate teammates in this way:
…the one year we had the cookie with the circle jerk and they all had to jerk off and the last guy to throw their load out there had to eat the cookie so it kind of got – that was a little crazy, that was my second year that that happened…the guy actually ate the cookie, I mean he had to, he had to, you got 20 guys around you forcing you to do it, what are you going to do? He had to you know…that was more for the rookie initiations.
The above participant revealed a very demeaning event during his collegiate team’s initiation like two other athletes who reported similar initiations on their junior hockey teams. While the above event could have produced serious consequences for the athletes, their program, and coaches, it was never reported. Collegiate athletic teams have come under close scrutiny since the University of Vermont cancelled its 1999-2000 hockey season and Montreal’s McGill University cancelled the 2005-06 football season following reports of sexualized initiations.59 Although it appears that team initiations have been reduced, lessened in severity, and in some cases stopped altogether, they continue to flourish within certain athlete cultures. In this study, about 80% of the participants observed, experienced, and/or participated in initiating athletes on their collegiate and/or professional teams. From this group, approximately 45% revealed initiations involving nudity or other sexualized practices within their teams. Together, these narratives reinforced the fact that elite-level athletes thrive on competition, and it is evident that some athletes have carried their competitive drive into perverse sexual events involving masturbation contests that were particularly demeaning during team initiations.
PUSHING THE LIMITS INTO THE BIZARRE
As athletes become more comfortable and bonded with each other, heightened levels of team camaraderie encourage some athletes to push the limits into more shocking and sexualized behaviors. This happens because the more outrageous the event, the more entertainment and status-producing stories emerge for those making victims of practical jokes look foolish. Several narratives from a minor leaguer and a collegiate hockey player described some of the more extreme sexual behaviors that happened during their junior and collegiate careers in this way:
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