\”Being A Man\” in Sports

This year, I was able to celebrate the New Year holidays at my parents\’ house in Shonan, Japan complete with amazing food and watching the Hakone Ekiden. Growing up, I watched this race in person as the runners pass by the beachside road right by my parents\’ house. This Ekiden is one of the most prominent university relay marathon races of the year held between Tokyo and Hakone. Due to the pandemic, I watched this year\’s Hakone Ekiden on TV.

Day 1 is usually more exciting because the race is a lot more competitive early on. Often times, the team that wins Day 1 also ends up winning the whole race on Day 2. But this year, there was a dramatic development that rarely happens in the very end of the race, and Komazawa University claimed a victory in a dramatic fashion in the final mile.

As the anchor-leg runner of the Komazawa team caught up with the leader, the head coach of the university shouted at his runner over a loudspeaker and straight into my living room:

\”Be a man! Go!\” said Hiroaki Oyagi. \”You are a man! Go get it!\”

What does it mean to \”Be a man?\”

\”The remark was acceptable because the runner was inspired by the coach.\” \”It\’s OK if the runner and the coach have a trusting relationship. It doesn\’t matter what everyone else says.\”

While there has been an overwhelming amount of criticism against the \”be a man\” comment, many defended the controversial remark made by the coach.

In order to win in sports, is it OK to make sexist remarks? Or is it OK as long as it\’s kept in \”the inner circle\” and not in public?

I find this type of comments toxic and troubling, because they imply that being \”honorable\” and \”victorious\” is associated with a particular gender.

Needless to say, men are not the only \”honorable\” and \”victorious\” people; women can also achieve \”honorable\” and \”victorious\” feats. Sadly, there is a double standard.

If a woman achieves an \”honorable\” and \”victorious\” feat, would she be considered \”manly?\” Perhaps. That\’s because in today\’s society, neither sports nor the general public say \”be a woman\” to rally up an individual. The idea that \”I am a man, therefore I am capable\” implies male superiority.

This week, a full page of the Asahi newspaper\’s opinion covered this incident at the Hakone Ekiden, which made me realize that more people in Japan are raising questions about traditional gender norms, which is great. However, why are such sexist remarks still praised in sports?

Are gender biases more accepted in sports?

One of the reasons why \”being a man\” is praised is that in the battlefield of competition, some believe such competition is best left for men. The idea that women are powerless and are burdens to the fight is a male-centered belief that excludes half of the population. While this type of gender bias is outdated to the general public, it seems to be still accepted in sports.

That may be why a phrase like, \”be a man\” naturally come out as encouragement to male athletes.

Some may say, \”Don\’t be too harsh. It\’s just a sport.\” But I strongly disagree. Sports are more than just entertainment – sports can change our society, politics, the economy and how we think about the world.

Gender education through sports

As with the Ekiden, baseball and soccer are popular sports for men in Japan. And since they are team sports, it requires caring of others, sensitivity, empathy, and humility, which are believed to be traditionally feminine qualities.

Regardless of gender, it\’s important for athletes to support each other to perform at their best as a team. Like everything else in life, sports need both conventional masculinity and femininity.

Unfortunately, following the traditional gender norms is still a big part of Japanese culture.

I\’m not rejecting the idea of masculinity or femininity. We need a fine balance of both in our world. All of us have human qualities. Expressing both masculinity and femininity is beautiful and vital for being a human.

Coaches and mentors need to be aware of the message they are sending to young people. More importantly, we must discuss the topic of gender with family and school. It\’s never too soon to start gender education.

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