Examining Productive Conceptions of Masculinities: Lessons Learned from Academically Driven African American Male Student-Athletes

Article excerpt

Published research on gender and male student-athletes competing at U.S. institutions of higher education is one-dimensional in that it focuses on narrow sets of problems and issues. Alcohol abuse (Koss & Gains, 1993), academic performance and outcomes (Carey, 2000; Hyatt, 2003; Pascrella, Truckenmiller, Nora, Yerenzini, Edison, & Hagedorn, 2005; Pearson & LeNoir, 1997), violence and sexual assault (Crosset, 2000; Messner & Stevens, 2002), homophobia (Messner, 2001), and self-concept (Hill, Burch-Ragan, & Yates, 2001; Howard-Hamilton & Sina, 2001) are the primary areas that have commanded much of the recent scholarly attention on male student-athletes. There are multiple examples of these approaches of studying student-athletes. For example, Messner (2001) examined student-athletes' interactions in locker rooms and argued that sexual joking and exaggerated story telling are commonly used strategies employed by male student-athletes to confirm their heterosexual statuses among teammates while also coping with fear of commitment and a lack of confidence in their intimate relationships. Crossett (2000) examined the perpetration of sexual assault among male student-athletes and found that, in 1995, male athletes constituted 3.7 percent of the student population but were responsible for 19 percent of sexual assaults reported to campus judicial affairs offices. Finally, in 1998, the Trauma Foundation conducted a comprehensive study of alcohol abuse among student-athletes and revealed that approximately 61 percent of the male respondents reported binge drinking on a regular basis.

While such inquiry is warranted and continues to be important, other dimensions of male student-athletes' gender identities are not adequately explored. Thus, our purpose in this article is to identify and discuss productive conceptions of masculinity situated in collegiate athletic contexts. We define productive masculine conceptions as feelings, beliefs, and interpretations about masculinities that encourage men to engage in and express positive gender-related behaviors and attitudes. In college contexts, productive masculine conceptions have been linked to increased positive student outcomes for African American men such as leadership, campus involvement, academic success, and civic engagement (Harper, 2004, 2005). The productive masculine conceptions presented herein were observed among African American male student-athletes at Division I universities, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) highest level of intercollegiate athletic competition.

We believe our work is essential for several reasons. First, previous research on male student-athletes focuses almost exclusively on destructive behaviors that inadvertently portray male student-athletes as a monolithic group who endorse a common set of problematic attitudes and beliefs. In addition, much of the previous research is not disaggregated by race or ethnicity. As a result, little is known about specific examples of positive behaviors among subpopulations of male student-athletes including African American men who are frequently characterized as violent, aggressive, uneducated, and disengaged. Images that counter these prevalent negative portrayals of African American male student-athletes are needed. Last, university administrations, within and beyond athletic departments, continually offer reactionary programming instead of proactive developmental interventions for male student-athletes. More often than not, these programs are based on deficit perspectives of male student-athletes, which dominate published research and public discourses regarding this population. Consequently, institutional efforts aimed at supporting student-athletes are, by default, constructed around negative aspects of these students' behaviors.

The theoretical framework of the study is presented in the section that follows. Afterward, we present the methods and the research findings. …