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Journal of Homosexuality, 58:680–699, 2011

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC


ISSN: 0091-8369 print/1540-3602 online
DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2011.563672

Homophobic and Sexist yet Uncontested:


Examining Football Fan Postings on Internet
Message Boards

EDWARD M. KIAN, PhD


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Graduate Program for Sport Leadership, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA

GALEN CLAVIO, PhD


School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Indiana University–Bloomington,
Bloomington, Indiana, USA

JOHN VINCENT, PhD


Department of Kinesiology, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

STEPHANIE D. SHAW, MA
Graduate Program for Sport Leadership, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA

Although a homophobic and sexist archetype of heterosexual


masculinity has been thought to permeate competitive teamsport,
matters have been rapidly changing. This is evident in research
on openly gay athletes, attitudes among heterosexual athletes, and
recent studies on decreasing homophobia among sport media con-
tent. In this research, however, we examine how some men still
adhere to a homophobic and sexist masculine deposition when
discussing sport on the Internet. A textual analysis was used to
analyze hegemonic masculinity from a popular American football
message board. Although posts related to hegemonic masculinity
did not permeate the data, we found that this traditional form of
masculinity was upheld through misogyny, homophobia, and the
objectification of women. Thus, whereas mainstream sport media
is increasingly policed for homophobia and sexism, this research
shows that the anonymity of the Internet permits hegemonic
masculinity to flourish in specific locations, without contestation.

KEYWORDS sport media, internet message boards, college foot-


ball, homophobia, sexism, new media

Address correspondence to Edward M. Kian, Graduate Program Coordinator for Sport


Leadership, University of Central Florida, P.O. Box 161250, Orlando, FL 32816-1250. E-mail:
ekian@mail.ucf.edu
680
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 681

Sport has been described as a cultural institution that assists in the shaping
and defining of acceptable forms of masculinity in Western cultures (Connell,
1990; Hargreaves, 1994). Accordingly, over the past 20 years, a common
theme in sport-based academic research is that hegemonic masculinity
(Connell, 1995; 2005) permeates all levels and types of both organized and
unorganized sport (Adler & Adler, 1998; Messner, 2002). Hegemonic mas-
culinity reinforces androcentric privilege, subjugating women, while also
discriminating against gay men, who by their sexual orientation alone fail
to exhibit the most desirable masculine trait, heterosexuality. Donaldson
(1993) surmised, “. . . heterosexuality and homophobia are the bedrock of
hegemonic masculinity” (p. 645). Anderson (2005b) described the behavioral
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characteristics of men who exhibit these attitudes as adhering to “orthodox,”


tenants of hegemonic masculinity, meaning “they attempt to approximate
the hegemonic form of hegemonic masculinity by devaluing women and
gay men” (p. 338).
Many scholars have theorized mass media (including the Internet) play
a large role in upholding both patriarchy and a dominant version of ortho-
dox masculinity in sport (e.g., Connell, 1990; Duncan, 2006). They do so by
focusing coverage on male athletes and men’s sports, through the repro-
duction of stereotypical definitions of both gender and masculinity, and
by using language and images that glorify ideal masculine traits, such as
aggression, courage, and assertiveness (Pedersen, 2002). Generally, men’s
sports receive the vast majority of media coverage regardless of the level
or type of sport or the medium (Billings, Halone, & Denham, 2002; Kian,
Vincent, & Mondello, 2008). Specific men’s sports receiving the most cov-
erage are thought to emphasize traditional masculine traits such as power,
strength, and violence, whereas women who participate in sports considered
more feminine (e.g., gymnastics, figure staking) receive much more media
coverage than those competing in sports thought more masculine in nature,
such as softball and weightlifting (Kian, 2008; Vincent & Crossman, 2008).
Likewise, male athletes in sports construed as more feminine (e.g., fig-
ure skating, gymnastics) receive little media coverage and are often mocked
with innuendo that they are gay or effeminate, negative stigmas that then
transcend through lower and younger levels of organized sport (Anderson,
2005a; Messner & Sabo, 1990). Furthermore, media generally ignore gay ath-
letes, in large part because so few publicly reveal their sexual orientation.
Early research (Crosset, 1995; Dworkin & Wachs, 1998; Griffin, 1998) on
traditional media coverage of gay and lesbian athletes showed they were
mostly portrayed in a negative light, although more recent research (Kian &
Anderson, 2009; Nylund, 2004) indicates sport media are now providing
more positive narratives of openly gay athletes. However, researchers have
yet to examine how Internet sport media frame openly gay athletes.
Internet media are changing the way news is gathered, distributed, por-
trayed, accessed, and consumed (Schultz & Sheffer, 2007). Furthermore, the
682 E. M. Kian et al.

Internet offers a more participatory type of sport journalism, where readers


are active in the discussion of printed content. Some scholars have argued
that this communal nature of the Internet is more accommodating to women
and men who do not adhere to traditional notions of masculinity (Kian,
Mondello, & Vincent, 2009; Royal, 2008). However, academic inquiries on
Internet sport media content remain limited due to the relative newness
of the medium (Kian & Hardin, 2009). Research on Internet sport message
boards is even more sparse (Clavio, 2008b; Galily, 2008). Accordingly, in
this research, we use new media to investigate gendered attitudes existing
among fans of an old game—American football—via a sport-based message
board.
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COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND A CHANGING AMERICAN SOCIETY

American football has long been considered the most masculine, violent, and
popular of all U.S. sports (Rader, 2008). Since the early twentieth century,
football has also been the most prominent and lucrative of all U.S. collegiate
sports (Rader, 2008). Many of the sport’s most passionate fan bases hail
from the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest regions, which are more cul-
turally conservative (Barnhart, 2000). The most ardent of these fans monitor
the recruiting efforts of their universities football program, where standout
high school prospects sign national letters of intent to play for respective
universities (Clavio, 2008a).
Media coverage and fan interest for college football recruiting has
exploded with the advent of the Internet, which allows consumers to also
serve as active participants via message boards (Clavio, 2008b). For exam-
ple, on a single day in February 2007, nearly 70 million people logged on
to Rivals.com, an Internet network that focuses its content on college foot-
ball recruiting. They log on to read and discuss news relating to college
football’s national signing day for high school prospects (Skretta, 2007). Of
those 70 million, a small percentage post on the site’s message board.
The main board on the Rivals.com national college football recruit-
ing page is the network’s most frequently visited message board. Members
of all Rivals.com subscription sites and fans of various collegiate athletics
programs in disparate locations can post messages onto the main board,
often to counter content posted by fans of rival schools. They do so
under anonymous screen names, which permits them to post freely with-
out threat to their personal identities. Thus, one might expect that fans of
one of the most homophobic and sexist sports to espouse their conservative
views en masse. However, desirable masculinities are frequently challenged
(Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005), and the homophobia implicit in football
may no longer be as evident today as it used to be.
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 683

There has been a cultural shift toward inclusivity of gays and lesbians
in American society (Kozloski, 2010). For example, a 2010 poll found that
Americans supported gay marriage by a 52–46% margin (Associated Press,
2010). This contrasted with a 2004 Gallup poll, which showed that Americans
opposed gay marriage by 61–32% (“Civil unions for gays favored,” 2004).
This trend is even evident in one of America’s most conservative institutions,
the U.S. military. In 2010, President Obama signed a bill that ended the insti-
tutional discriminatory policy against gays and lesbians in the U.S. military
known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell after a U.S. Defense Department study found
70% of military personnel thought that effects of integrating openly gay ser-
vicemen and servicewomen into the military would be positive, mixed, or
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of no consequence (Fahrenthold, 2010). This was compared to just 26% of


military members who supported revoking the policy in 2006, with 37% then
in favor of maintaining Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (Zogby International, 2006).
Highlighting how this changing cultural ethos has impacted sport fans,
surveys have shown that nearly two thirds of sport fans in the United States
indicated that they would not change their opinion of their favorite athlete if
he or she came out publicly as gay (Buzinski, 2002). Most recently, Campbell
et al. (this issue) showed that whereas undergraduate men do not use a
player’s homosexuality against him, undergraduate women upgrade their
view of gay male athletes. These trends support Anderson’s (2009) inclusive
masculinity theory, which suggests that fluid masculine identities are becom-
ing more accepted both within sport and the culture as a whole, particularly
within the younger generation. The existence of more inclusive forms of
masculinity has made the expression of homophobia and misogyny some-
what publicly unacceptable. Accordingly, the Internet provides an interesting
location for examination of how embedded hegemonic masculinity persists
amongst some of the most passionate college football fans.

HISTORY AND POPULARITY OF COLLEGE SPORT


MESSAGE BOARDS

Although message boards have come to be identified as a new media venue,


the functional history of message boards actually dates back over 30 years,
well before the advent of the World Wide Web. Message boards were origi-
nally known as BBS systems. They were designed as virtual meeting places
for individuals who shared common interests, taking their nomenclature
from the bulletin boards found in common areas such as supermar-
kets (Christensen & Suess, 1989; Garmon, 2005). As Internet connectivity
expanded, so too did interest in message board style communities. Following
the introduction of World Wide Web protocols to the Internet in 1992, a grad-
ual shift toward message board sites focused on intercollegiate athletics. This
led to the establishment of the Rival Network, a series of sites that combined
684 E. M. Kian et al.

original reporting with message board forums where fans could interact and
discuss issues related to their favorite team (Solomon, 2006). This network
would eventually reform into two competing companies, Rivals.com and
Scout.com.
By the mid-2000s, Rivals.com and Scout.com had become among the
most popular sites on the Internet. They have remained popular, largely due
to the interactive and informative functions of the message boards which
they host (Clavio, 2008a). The amount of traffic generated by these sites has
led Yahoo! to invest upward of $100 million in the purchase of Rivals.com;
meanwhile Fox Sports invested in the Scout.com network, and ESPN grew
affiliated with other high-traffic message boards (Oates, 2007). Not only do
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these sites attract many hundreds of thousands of visitors, but these visitors
stay on the message boards for an average of 1.2 hours each time they log
on to each recruiting site (Solomon, 2006).
The basic structure of a message board is that of a threaded, asyn-
chronous conversation between multiple users. A user who possesses an
active account on a message board site can start a new conversation by cre-
ating a “post” and giving it a title and a body of text. Other users can then
read the post and decide whether to respond. Posts are generally monitored
by site administrators, who ensure that topics, language, and interactions
are in line with the site’s culture and specifications. On the more popular
message board sites, there are multiple “forums,” which users can utilize,
and each of these forums focuses on a different general topic. There is also
normally a bifurcation of users on college sports message boards, between
those who pay a subscription cost and those who do not. Subscribers gener-
ally pay around $100–120 annually to gain access to subscriber-only message
boards and premium news articles. The advantage of these subscriber-only
venues is that the level of discourse is often more intelligent and supportive
of the team of focus than what is found on the nonsubscriber message board
(Clavio, 2008a).
Initial studies of college sport message board user demographics uncov-
ered an online community that is primarily White, male, affluent, well
educated, and aged 30 years and over, similar to the Internet users more
broadly (Clavio, 2008a; Clavio & Kian, 2010). On Rivals.com, 90% of respon-
dents identified themselves as male, and over 90% identified themselves as
White; whereas 67% indicated they were married, engaged, or living with a
partner (Clavio, 2008a). Of these users, 78% possessed at least an undergrad-
uate degree, 79% earned at least $60,000 per year in household income, and
42% earned at least $100,000 per year in household income. Accordingly,
the typical Rivals.com message board user is an upper-middle class, college-
educated, middle-aged, White male who posts anonymously (Clavio, 2008a)
about which universities are recruiting strapping, mostly African-American,
teenage males to play college football. No published articles have examined
the content of these message boards; while this article does not examine
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 685

all of the content of these boards, it contributes to our understanding of


these boards by focusing on the postings that reproduce orthodox notions
of heterosexual masculinity, as well as postings that counter these notions.
Accordingly, we examine for examples and overriding narratives that rein-
force hegemonic masculinity, homophobia, and sexism in a location in
which men are provided anonymity.

METHODOLOGY
Textual Analysis
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We conducted a textual analysis of all message board threads and each indi-
vidual post under those threads published on the main board, a popular
message board on the Rivals.com national college football recruiting page.
Textual analyses are unobtrusive and nonreactive tools that uncover both
explicit and subtle underlying meanings within printed content (McKee,
2001). However, this type of methodology is both interpretative and sub-
jective (Harris & Clayton, 2002). Textual analyses typically do not include
the numeric equations commonly found in quantitative content analyses of
media content (Sparkes, 1992).

Sampling Selection
Rivals.com was analyzed because it is the most popular network for col-
lege football recruiting coverage (Skretta, 2007). The Rivals.com national
football recruiting message board (main board) was selected for examina-
tion, because subscribers of all Rivals.com-affiliated Internet sites can post
and respond to all messages on the main board at all times regardless of
where they are located in the world. Currently, the Rivals.com network has
117 different affiliated college Web sites, with all providing original con-
tent and their own message boards for 117 different National Collegiate
Athletic Association (NCAA) athletics programs, including all universities
with marquee Division I intercollegiate football programs. All of these sites
are independently operated and have no formal connection to the athletics
programs they cover.
College football recruiting fans most frequently visit message boards
closer to national signing day, which annually falls on the first Wednesday
of February (February 1, 2010). The dead period begins the Monday before
signing day, a 48-hour period when college football coaches are unable
to initiate contact with or visit perspective recruits. This is a time-period
when rumors are most prevalent and solid info less available, making mes-
sage boards the primary source of information for college football diehard
fans during the dead period. All 6,835 individual posts under 318 different
message board threads on the Rivals.com main board published over the
686 E. M. Kian et al.

first 24 hours of the dead period (12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. of February 1,
2010) were examined in this study. Further, all content under each message
board post was analyzed, including pictures, images, and graphics that mes-
sage board users occasionally attach to their signature handles, although the
primary focus remained on the actual language within posts that included
references toward gender or sexualities.

Coding Procedures and Data Analysis


We used open and axial levels of coding in our textual analysis of all con-
tent in college football recruiting message board posts, generating multiple
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and layered elements of analyses (Creswell, 2003). The inductive coding


practices created multiple levels of data, which were interpreted according
to the larger theoretical frames falling under gender and sexualities. Every
post under each message board thread was initially read by two researchers,
who initially worked independently of each other, with both attaining sub-
scriptions to Rivals.com to provide access to all messages posted on the
main board. Content and images related to the broad headings of gender
and sexualities in articles were highlighted. After comparing notes, an initial
database was created by the two researchers, who, at this point, worked
together. Open coding was utilized in examining posts multiple times to
identify dominant narratives as well as counters to the primary narratives
within the content. We then incorporated axial coding as a means of linking
previously identified themes and categories within the data to larger theoret-
ical frameworks on masculinities and sexualities (Anderson, 2009, Connell,
2005; Glasser & Strauss, 1967).

Validity and Trustworthiness


Specific themes relating to gender and sexualities within message board
posts were given greater importance. Thus, by design, this methodology
does not aim to merely reproduce the content of posts, but instead to
uncover the textual constructions related to gender and sexualities per-
meating the dominant narratives (Sparkes, 1992). This process is highly
interpretive by nature (Creswell, 2003). However, our analytical methods
were designed to ensure consistent data collection. Moreover, the analysis
by two researchers (first working independently and then as a pair) resulted
in a dynamic and layered analytical framework.

RESULTS

From the 6,835 posts and 318 message board threads examined, the vast
majority of all content focused on college football and football recruiting.
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 687

Thus, most threads had little to do with intentionally reproducing hegemonic


masculinity in a forum for sport fans. In fact, some postings concerned
matters one might not expect from a college football message board, such
as discussions of stocks and attaining medical treatment. But those posts are
not the topic of this particular research. Instead, this research examines how,
despite the cultural advances we have made in promoting more inclusive
forms of masculinity (Anderson, 2009), hegemonic forms of masculinity still
reside (often uncontested) in locations where sport fans gather.
Accordingly, we found posts with contentious discussions of homosex-
uality and homophobia and gender and misogyny, alongside other posts
that asserted the poster’s desire to be associated with traditional forms of
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masculinity. From the data we provide here, we organize these postings


into five categories: 1) Bitches Ain’t Shit But Hoes and Tricks; 2) Is This a
Football Recruiting Site or Maxim Magazine? 3) Name-Calling and Pedantic
Humor Know No Depth in This Playground; 4) Blatant Homophobia Often
Exhibited and No One Seems to Mind; 5) All Bigotry Is Mostly Tolerated,
But Don’t You Dare Disrespect the Troops! Specific examples from content
within posts will be given throughout the discussion of the five dominant
themes emerging from the data analysis, with typos, misspelled words, gram-
matical mistakes, and profanity in messages quoted exactly as they were
originally published on the Main Board. Actual screen names are not cited
to preserve the anonymity of posters, although their screen names already
hide true identities in most cases. However, some posters will be described
by their favorite college team, evident in most cases because the team site
they subscribe to was listed by their screen name. Older messages eventually
are discarded from the Rivals.com network, so readers of this article cannot
search for specific usernames based on the actual passages quoted in this
article.

Bitches Ain’t Shit But Hoes and Tricks


The first part of the chorus to the popular rap song, “Bitches Ain’t Shit,”
by Dr. Dre was listed at the bottom of one poster’s signature handle, a
place where many message board users attach photos or quotes that appear
after all their messages. That degrading attitude toward women was the
paramount theme throughout the data with few counters. One thread was
simply titled, “Choose ONE and why: breasts OR legs,” with the first poster
attaching a photo of a woman’s chest and another featuring just a woman’s
legs. Among the responses were “Legs and ass. You can buy boobs,” and
“Breasts, because you can’t titty-bang legs, nor is it any fun to blow your
load or them.” The second comment resulted in counters, with two different
posters asking board administrators to remove the thread entirely. Another
mocked the second comment above by writing, “You choose tits because
of titty f+cking and a place to blow your load? You watch too much porno
688 E. M. Kian et al.

and titty f+cking is a waste of time.” Another poster provided a detailed,


longitudinal, and race-based answer to the question.

Legs are indicative of a better overall body type, i.e. not fat.
Big it’s in my experience, assuming natural, are indicative of a fat woman.
Rarely do you find big natural tits on a healthy woman.
Granted our definitions of healthy may differ. Black men consider their
avg woman, white or black, to be “healthy,” whereas most white men
would view them as fat . . . or husky.
Husky/curvaceous women in their teens and twenties become fat sloppy
bitches by their 30s.
A toned healthy woman w/ fit legs usually will stay that way well I to
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their 40/50’s increasing the chances of a successful long lasting marriage.


Why do you think there are so many fat single mothers as opposed to
hot/fit single mothers in comparison?

Direct stories or innuendo of alleged sexual conquests and/or fantasies were


also commonplace in the data regardless of the title of threaded topics. A
University of Nebraska fan started a thread to ask if other posters had been
banned from their favorite team’s site, stating that he had been barred from
posting at HuskersIllustrated.com after returning drunk “from a party” and
“posting ridiculous things.” The first response to his question was “Maybe
you should focus on pussy . . . everybody involved wins.” Under a thread
titled, “Just watched the move ‘Extract’ with Mila Kunis,” a University of
Miami fan wrote, “She’s kind of Slutty . . . kind of dirty! LOL . . . Yeah that’s
the way I like them to! LOL.” The thread then became a picture-posting con-
test of actresses deemed physically attractive, coupled with debates on which
women were “hotter.” A University of Alabama fan particularly appreciated
one posted picture, writing:

The third picture that the OP posted is pretty much the sum of all my
fantasies right there. I’m pretty sure if you scored a 3 way with those
two, God would just come down and be like, “Congratulations, you just
won at life. You figured it out. You can go now.”

Women and their body parts were also given numeric or letter grades based
on how message board posters perceived their physical attractiveness. In
describing his first girlfriend from “years ago,” one University of Florida
fan noted that she “wasn’t fat by any means but she had this tank ass
that some called gross, I called solid gold. Her face was around a 5 but
her titties and ass were around a 8.” There were no comments on the
intellect or lack thereof on any woman in any of the 6,835 posts exam-
ined. No poster revealed herself as a woman, although numerous males
either directly or indirectly noted their sex within content. Other negative
stereotypes of women were included in the data. One University of Notre
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 689

Dame fan asked about another poster, “Are you sure he’s a dude? With
his constant bitching towards ND, he reminds me of a scorned housewife.”
Moreover, the few references on female athletes or women’s sports were
all used in a negative tone, mostly to mock the football team of a rival
school.

Is This a Football Recruiting Site or Maxim Magazine?


Many posters attached photographs of sexy women, possibly in an attempt
to affirm their heterosexuality to fellow posters in the message board com-
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munity. A total of 2,735 photographs, graphs, artwork, or images were


attached to the 6,835 total posts, with some posters having multiple pho-
tos attached to each of their posts. The majority of these photos or artwork
(n = 1412, 51.6% of the population) were of football players, football
coaches, teams, committed recruits, prospective recruits, school mascots, or
other identifiable factors associated with specific football programs or uni-
versities. However, the next most popular subset of photographs featured
attractive women (n = 511, 18.7%), which easily surpassed all combined
photos of sports stars, teams, figures, or coaches other than those from col-
lege football (n = 253, 9.3%) and those that were coded as likely to be
pictures of family members or household pets (n = 99, 3.6%).
None of these attractive women were known athletes or sport figures.
Instead, almost all pictures of women were of scantily clad or swimsuit-
wearing models, or popular movie or television stars; the majority of women
were also portrayed wearing little attire. These were similar to the types of
seductive poses of women that commonly appear in popular men’s mag-
azines such as Maxim. A University of Georgia fan who was a frequent
poster on the Rivals.com main board had a trio of pictures at the bottom
of his signature, one of which was actually a video of Italian model Sara
Varone bending over with hers breast juggling in motion. An entire thread
was simply titled, “best looking girl as there SIG,” which featured two dozen
responders, with most bragging about the pictures of women whose photos
were attached to their posts.
Any photos of women deemed unattractive were called out by other
posters, including a fan that seemingly had a picture of himself with his
wife or girlfriend attached to his posts. In an argument over the potential
destination of a coveted prospect, a fan of a rival school asked him to not
“post another picture of a fat white girl.” One poster attached a photo of
what appeared to be a physically challenged teenage girl in an Auburn shirt,
which resulted in what appeared to be a sarcastic compliment by an Auburn
fan who wrote, “Wow. Not only is the photoshop of the AU in that pic
terrible, you get extra points for good taste in using what appears to be a
handicapped person to flame. Props to you.” A University of Virginia fan,
690 E. M. Kian et al.

whose handle included three pictures (all of female buttocks), posted a link
to a Web site that featured photographs of attractive rearends, a few of which
were male. This resulted in two quick rebukes from fellow posters, although
none noted any problems with the link itself or any of the pictures of female
butts. A Louisiana State University fan complained, “Jesus, there are guy ass
pics in this thing as well. I could have used a warning to that effect.” When
posters debated the attractiveness of specific women, some users would
publish posts asking moderators to delete these threads. However, none
directly countered the content within the sexist posts.
Photos of attractive women were not the only attached images that
symbolized hegemonic masculinity in the data. One Alabama fan’s signature
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included a six-box cartoon that highlighted a conversation between a boy


and girl that jeered at spousal abuse:

Girl: IF THERE’S ONE THING I HAVE LEAREND THIS WEEKEND


Girl: IT’S THAT I LIKE MY MEN LIKE I LIKE MY PAPER CLIPS
Girl: ABLE TO KEEP EVERYTHING TOGETHER AND PREVENT THINGS
FROM GETTING OUT OF ORDER
Boy: I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN
Boy: I LIKE MY WOMEN LIKE I LIKE MY PAPER
Boy: ABLE TO TAKE A FEW PUNCHES.

An Auburn University fan had a motivational, black-and-white poster in


his signature featuring a 1950’s-style housewife and preteen daughter, both
wearing aprons and holding cooking utensils. In the poster, the smiling
mother states “That’s right sweetheart; dreams and goals are Satan’s way
of distracting you from making dinner.” The bottom of the poster had
“WISDOM” in large, bold font, with the following passage directly below
“WISDOM”: “We tend to scoff at the beliefs of older generations. But that
doesn’t make them less true.”

Name Calling and Pedantic Humor Know No Depth


in This Playground
The average Rivals.com message board user is college educated and mid-
dle aged. However, sophistication and maturity were not evident in most of
the content that was deemed humorous and appreciated within the main
board community based on the number of responses and praise offered
by other posters. Name calling was commonplace throughout many threads
regardless if they focused on football recruiting or went off-topic. Names
used to describe other message board users on the main board included,
“bitch,” “boy George,” “cornhole,” “Douche bag,” “dumbass,” “faggot,” “f-ing
imbecile,” “Inbred,” “mentally retarded,” “panty waste,” “penile perspec-
tive,” “phaggot,” “pussy,” “queer,” and “snake fag.” Women were described
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 691

as “babes,” “bitches,” “hookers,” “sluts,” “whorestesses,” and as a “colored


teacher,” the latter of which was the only one term from either list that
generated any complaints by message board responders due to what was
perceived as its outdated racism.
One popular thread that generated a whopping 154 responses was
titled, “Most embarrassing place you ever ripped one,” with rip meaning flat-
ulence. Many of the descriptions were graphic in nature and several included
references toward sex with women. For example, an Alabama fan described
his favorite flatulence experience occurring “In some random chicks mouth
while she was tossing my salad. Needless to say I haven’t talked to her
since.” The stories soon became more vile and degrading toward female
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recipients on the part of these posters. However, the fart stories were not
limited toward doing so in the presence of women. An Auburn fan described
his “most proud” flatulence experience from his high school days as:

. . . before a football game my senior year in hs I bare ass faced this


kid as he slept on a weight bench. I managed to rip one on his
nose/eyes/forehead in front of the whole damn team. I would have
went to jail if someone did that shit to me.

There were no counters or criticisms of any of the flatulence stories, many


of which were similar to those above with their inclusion of graphic details.

Blatant Homophobia Often Exhibited and No One Seems to Mind


References were made in numerous posts toward gay men and gay sex
acts. All such descriptions were portrayed in a negative manner. In a thread
focused on the possibility that professional basketball player Carlos Boozer
may return to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, an Ohio State University fan
showed his disdain for both Boozer and pro football’s Cleveland Browns
by writing, “Carlos can suck a Browns dick. Traitor.” At the bottom of
his handle, one Rutgers University fan posted an alleged quote by a spe-
cific University of Tennessee fan’s screen name stating “it’s great. to be. a
cock sucking faggot.” In complaining about his favorite football team losing
two of its targeted recruits to other universities over the previous 36 hours,
one Georgia fan surmised, “ . . . we are getting ass raped today.” In the
same thread, a different Georgia fan employed homophobic name calling in
response to fans of other universities who were mocking his favorite foot-
ball program’s recruiting class: “So there are faggots from UT, Bama, and UK
flaming UGA in this thread. I’m flattered.” Many of the off-subject threads
included anti-gay rants, embedded within threads with titles such as “Jersey
Shore,” “I hate hippies,” and “blood in my pee and back pain.” A Clemson
fan advised the initial poster of the last thread to “Stop taking it in the
pooper” to eliminate his physical problems. Some anti-gay innuendo was so
692 E. M. Kian et al.

poorly constructed that they were difficult to comprehend. One Auburn fan
ended a post by concluding, “Sounds like a bag full of butthurt to me and
anyone else not from the butthole of the country.”
Although few do, posters on the main board can elect to begin a thread
by setting up a poll. Responders can then vote in the poll or offer commen-
tary. One such poll was entitled, “Keenan Allen goes to ????” Allen, a safety
from North Carolina who was rated as the number 5 overall senior high
school football prospect in the United States by Rivals.com, ended up sur-
prising many recruiting analysts by choosing the University of California at
Berkeley (Cal-Berkley) over defending football national champion Alabama
on national signing day, which occurred two days after this data was col-
Downloaded By: [Kian, Edward Ted M.][University of Central Florida] At: 20:24 1 May 2011

lected. The then-ongoing recruiting battle for Allen’s signature between


Alabama and Cal-Berkely resulted in regular disputes in multiple threads
between Alabama fans and fans of multiple Western-based colleges, ironi-
cally including those that are rivals of Cal, such as Southern Cal and Stanford
University. Often these back-and-forth posts would devolve into regional
arguments from fans of multiple teams, showing the discontent between the
more conservative South versus a region dubbed as “The Left Coast.” Many
political and cultural overtones were included in the posts. In the thread on
Allen, one Clemson University fan responded to a Cal fan by showing his
distaste for all that Cal-Berkeley symbolized to him:

Nice classy post duckweed. Learn how to read and then respond to a
post intelligently instead of using your broken English that you no doubt
learned at the esteemed University of California . . .
Clemson is a lot more relevant than Cal is or ever was . . . That’s
why Clemson is passionate about football and prospective players feed
off that passion. Players don’t get fired up about queers, liberals, and
mimosa-making tailgaters from your gay-ass school.

The Cal fan did not respond to this specific message and no poster coun-
tered the rampant homophobia exhibited by the Clemson fan. Homophobic
references were often mixed in with other forms of prejudice, such as the
initial post on the then-10-game winning streak of the Washington Capitals
of the National Hockey League (NHL). That post included a xenophobic
attack on television commentator Don Cherry, the popular and iconic host
of the television show “Hockey Night in Canada,” which is broadcast nightly
during the NHL season by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
An Alabama fan began the thread by writing of the Washington Capitals’
win streak, “I don’t care if you like them or hate them, or if you’re a
cock gobbling Canadian honk that’s favorite cocktail is Don Cherry’s sperm
(cough bignate 50 cough). That’s pretty damn impressive.” Cherry was
quickly defended on the first response, with one poster writing, “If you
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 693

don’t think Cherry is a badass, you’re a certified girl.” However, hyper-


patriotism and xenophobia toward Canada soon ensued in responses by
several posters, with an Alabama fan concluding that “The only reason
Canada isn’t part of America is because there’s nothing of value in the entire
country.” Other posters defended Canada or Cherry, but none countered the
homophobic references exhibited in the thread’s initial post. After several
more rants by the original poster, a poster not affiliated with any team site
offered a response that could be construed as a mocking counter to the
homophobic epithets of the Alabama fan:

So I guess your declarative statement “the Capitals have a far better


Downloaded By: [Kian, Edward Ted M.][University of Central Florida] At: 20:24 1 May 2011

playoff record than the Sharks” was wholly incorrect.


You can admit that now, or more likely your personality defect will
prevent you from doing so and instead hurt a “cocksucker” or “‘faggot
line” my way.

The only other poster providing any content that could be considered a
counter to the common homophobia in any of the 6,835 posts on the main
board was a Notre Dame fan who at the end of his sig had the following
warning in bold:

“The following statements have no bearing on any comment I make—


don’t bother:

1. Notre Dame is scared to join a conference


2. Notre Dame always schedules cupcakes
3. Notre Gay/Lame/Dumb.”

All Bigotry Is Mostly Tolerated, But Don’t You Dare


Disrespect the Troops!
Xenophobia was not limited to the comments about Don Cherry. “Mexicans,”
“Latinos,” “Italians,” and “the Chinese” were all portrayed negatively, often
by posters who occasionally also made homophobic or sexists references
in the same messages. Racial overtones and outright racist comments
were found in multiple threads. Most were generally directed at African
Americans, although few of those were toward the predominately Black ath-
letes who dominate the lists of top recruits. Among the top 100 national high
school football prospects in the 2010 signing class as rated by Rivals.com,
92 were African American, including the 32 highest-rated prospects in the
country. Some racist innuendo, though, was directed at recruits who com-
mitted to sign football scholarships with other schools, with those recruits
labeled with negative stereotypical terms often applied to African-American
694 E. M. Kian et al.

males such as “drug user,” “thug,” and “gangbanger” by fans of rival schools
(Grainger, Newman, & Andrews, 2006).
However, racist comments and innuendo received more counters and
subsequent counter-defenses than any other forms of bigotry commonly
found on the main board. In other words, a poster would often be called
out for a racist reference, but sexism and homophobia seemingly both-
ered few on the message board community. Some of the most blatant
racist comments, however, did not result in any complaints or responses.
In a thread titled, “Admit 3 things about your team/program,” one of the
responses by an Alabama fan was “Every single person associated with
Alabama is racist. I hate black people so much. I wish we could go back to
Downloaded By: [Kian, Edward Ted M.][University of Central Florida] At: 20:24 1 May 2011

the period before the civil war. All Alabama fans feel this way.” One poster
had a single picture attached to his handle of a small African boy cover-
ing his crying eyes with his hands, and a caption that read, “OH SNAP U
GOT DA AIDS!!” On a thread on the popular Internet game, Farmville, one
Alabama fan wrote, “For all of yall that didn’t know, Farmville is a facebook
application thats popularity is spreading faster than herpes in an African
brothel.”
None of the many racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic refer-
ences generated throughout the 6,835 posts examined generated near the
backlash that was unleashed on one poster, who dared to mock a mem-
ber of the U.S. military. A University of Oregon fan, who was a regular
poster on this board, had two pictures of the same solider in his com-
bat gear at the bottom of his signature In a dispute over Keenan Allen’s
upcoming commitment, another poster asked, “will the national guard puke
duck fan please get rid of the huge sigs? TIA.” The Oregon fan immediately
responded, “Thanks to that comment, No.” Several posts later, the original
criticizing poster replied, “just letting you know your place, scrub. Nobody
thinks you’re a badass because you’re a weekend warrior specialist.” The
Oregon fan responded, “He is my son, scrub, and currently in Iraq. Now
I will add another.” Afterward, a quintet of posters representing schools
all across the country jumped to the defense of the Oregon fan, with one
responding to the original poster, “Wow you’re a real asshole. . .. Now go
kill yourself.” The critic of the Oregon fan did not post again in the same
thread and there were no other negatives references toward the U.S. military
or any of its members in the rest of the data.

DISCUSSION

Although recent research suggest that college and high school aged students
are more accepting of lesser-masculine identities (Anderson 2008a; 2008b;
McCormack & Anderson, 2010), it seems that some hegemonic masculinity
still flourishes, anonymously, on this football fan site. Overall, the themes
Fan Postings on Internet Message Boards 695

we coded here sustain dominant notions of the traditional and hierarchal,


gender order, thus strongly upholding and supporting hegemonic masculin-
ity on this particular Internet message board. The graphic nature of some of
the themes provides insight into how hegemonic masculinity, which subor-
dinates and marginalizes other masculinities and femininities, is produced in
one of the fastest growing new sport media forums.
College sport message board users’ performance of hegemonic mas-
culinity seemed to be mutually reinforced or policed by subsequent postings,
possibly meaning that the main board serves as a haven for men trying to
attain masculine capital and acceptance from like-minded peers. Connell
(2005) has noted the important role that conservative media conglomer-
Downloaded By: [Kian, Edward Ted M.][University of Central Florida] At: 20:24 1 May 2011

ates such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Scout.com


(the chief rival of Rivals.com), play in producing and upholding traditional,
patriarchal ideology. The graphic, juvenile, misogynistic, and homophobic
narratives and photographs of sexually objectified women found in this
study seemed to resonate within this culture. It appears that, at least for
these men, Burton Nelson’s (1994) contention that “the stronger women get,
the more men love football” still applies.
However, because these postings are a small minority of the 6,835 we
coded, this does not mean that all posters on this site adhere to the tenants of
this conservative masculinity. Hegemony is never complete, and is constantly
challenged (Connell, 1987; Gramsci, 1971). Accordingly, Anderson (2009)
showed us that among athletes and their fans, one of the requisites of hege-
monic masculinity—homophobia—is no longer compulsory. Perhaps this is
why so few of these men engaged with and supported these prejudiced
discussions. Still, it is interesting to note that challenges to these posts were
mostly rare exceptions: Few challenged the chauvinism that was regularly
exhibited toward all women, and none directly countering the homophobic
language. Without maintaining the ability to interview those who read these
posts but did not contest them, we cannot ascertain why, but it is nonethe-
less an indication that it is not yet compelling to contest them in a way that
contesting racism might be (Wolf-Wendel, Toma, & Morphew, 2001).
These are interesting findings, because whereas overt sexism and homo-
phobia are being chased out of mainstream sport media, produced by
professional sport journalists (Kian & Anderson, 2009; Nylund, 2004), with
the help of anonymity, bigots appear to be congregating into small enclaves
on the Internet. Here, vile examples of sexist and homophobic language,
re-enforcement of traditional and stereotypical, gender stereotypes, as well
as a plethora of pictures of scantily-clad women are abundant. The lack of
their contestation also leads us to speculate that perhaps women and gay
males, who are the most likely to be offended by these messages do not
visit the main board, due precisely to the types of discourse permeating the
message board community. Thus, it is possible that this Internet site retains
696 E. M. Kian et al.

a conservative readership basis. This, in itself, makes it interesting that those


with the types of postings we account for here are in the far minority.
So, while multiple studies concerning the attitudes and the culture of
sport-related participants, leaders, media, and fans over recent years have
indicated the institution of sport is becoming less of a hegemonic mascu-
line social structure and more accepting of alternate forms of masculinity
(e.g., Adams, Anderson, & McCormack, 2010; Anderson, 2008a; Anderson &
McGuire, 2010; Kian & Anderson, 2009; Southall, Nagel, Anderson, Polite, &
Southall, 2009; Vincent, Hill, & Lee, 2009), results of this exploratory study
strongly support the notion that while only a minority of posters engage
with hegemonic masculinity, few contest it. Thus, homophobia, misogyny,
Downloaded By: [Kian, Edward Ted M.][University of Central Florida] At: 20:24 1 May 2011

and sexism are still somewhat permissible within the popular, Rivals.com
main board, in a way that racism no longer is acceptable.
Attitudes among these message board users may, too, change in com-
ing years; just as they did within the ranks of the U.S. military. Moreover,
results from this study should not be generalized for all sport message board
content. This data came from just one source (Rivals.com), covered just a
24-hour period at the height of interest in college football’s national signing
day, and the particular message board examined focused on just one specific
but very popular men’s sport in American college football. For now, though,
the main board is a domain that is not yet accepting of independent or
unattractive women, gay males, or men who do not exhibit desirable forms
of masculinity. It is instead reflective of orthodox masculinity by providing a
venue where homophobia is common, masculine bravado is prevalent, and
femininity devalued and mocked. Thus, for all the advancements made in
sport, we still have a ways to go.

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