Melissa Harris-Perry | February 23, 2013
>>> this week, the national football league is looking for a few good men. on wednesday, the league kicked off its very own version of a beauty pageant , otherwise known as the 2013 scouting combine . more than 300 of college football 's best players descended upon indianapolis to showcase their assets and skills before scouts, coaches and managers, all of them hoping to secure a spot on draft day in april and launch a career playing in the pros. there's a swimsuit contest which in the combine means players stripping down to their skivvies to have their physiques evaluated, poked and prodded. there's the interview which gives the team officials and media a chance to know the players and they will undergo medical testing and psychological evaluations . in the talent portion of the combine, they will run, jump, drill, shuttle and dash hoping to get good numbers from the judges. this is how the nfl, a platform for one of our culture's most visible displays of masculinity, takes the measure of their men. only lately, we have seen a handful of players recalibrating the metrics of what makes a man. pro ballers speaking out for marriage equality are offering their own measurement of manhood and it's not in inches or yards, but the length to which a man is willing to stick out his neck for somebody else. so as you already know, nerdland, i love football but there is something in this moment that is so like literally, we can measure a man and his value by what size he is, width of his arms and quickness of his 40.
>> i think as you note from the combines, measuring these guys and the jumping and all these tests, you have to have a comparison so this running back is an adrian peterson type because of this. this body type , his body percentage, so all those things are because of the comparison. i remember a day when i came out in '96, you had to strip down with no shirt and stand in line almost like cattle, and they got rid of that because there were some other issues to doing that.
>> like it looks like slavery?
>> okay. i'm with you. i'm with you.
>> visually for some of the women watching, seeing the shirts and watching them run the 40 yard dashes but it's all comparison to the year before.
>> the irony of when i watch the combine, which now has become a huge ratings success that people watch just, i don't know why, but whatever, is that sort --
>> because nfl players are walking around in their skivvies. what do you mean, you don't know why?
>> it's not just that. guys like to watch it, too, they want to see how fast somebody is and feel like with their untrained eye they can spot a superstar. but it sort of put men in the category of knowing almost what we go through which is being objectified a lot and they are put on display for just physicality purpose. i know they go, you know, mental evaluations --
>> it's horses walking around the track.
>> they understand a little now.
>> but pop culture is part of where these definitions of manhood show up. so i am a james bond fan. i come to it through my husband, who is a big james bond watcher. this bond is interesting because he's not impervious anymore. he's still wealthy and violent but he gets hurt, he gets injured, he seems to have emotions although he will still let a woman be shot, you know. but i wonder if even as we see like the new batman, the new bond, if we're starting to see some space for a more vulnerable version of manhood.
>> yeah. absolutely. because these, when you look at the dark knight , you see examples of depression, you see them explain their emotional vulnerability, their inner lives. i think that's what's going on there, is that you're not -- it's not just physical challenges that they're meeting. you're bringing in the emotional challenges for men today.
>> the way we know that they win isn't because they have some great emotional moment, right, it's because they ultimately get their gun and shoot everybody in the room, right?
>> i think to pull back to what you were saying when we came into this segment, you look at for instance the reaction to gay bashing in professional sports . this is really pretty interesting. when magic johnson came out and told us that he was hiv positive , and he was asked are you gay and of course not, you know, absolutely not and everyone sort of laughed. now, i actually think there has been a reconfiguration of traditional masculinity, again, getting back to this point, traditional masculinity is supposed to be about strength and home ohomeophobia weighs in as insecurity, almost. like weakness. like your inability to reckon with the reality that there's all kinds of and we're all mixed together and people have their proclivities and that's natural.
>> does that then basically falsify my hypothesis? definitions of masculinity are part of why we see this violence on the part of men towards women and other men and ultimately towards themselves and we have seen a reconfiguring of masculinity, then have i simply got it wrong and in fact, whatever it is that's causing the violence is not that, is not about men?
>> well, don't go giving up already. while i do think it's changing, it is to some degree at a glacial pace. if you watch --
>> have you seen how fast the glaciers are melting?
>> well, if you look at the nba , for example, while it was progress in the sense that last year, when they fined kobe bryant $100,000 for the homophobic slur he said during the game which is something that would never happen because you're on tv and it happened, well, that indicates a level of progress. the fact is, you tune into a game on any given night in the nba , you still hear that word quite a bit. in locker room culture, we're all still waiting for this moment of when we're going to have an athlete that comes out while still playing and i just don't think we're there yet. we're getting closer but locker room culture is still very masculine, still very closed, and any athlete will admit to you they have played with gay players but they do not want them to come out, they don't want it in their face. they want everything to kind of remain as is, almost like the military.
>> for me it goes back to the word that you don't want as a coach, general manager, player. you don't want a locker room distraction. we saw plaxico burress shoot himself defending super bowl champion giants, it ruined their season. they were 11-1 and went south after that incident. imagine if a player comes out of the closet, a team that's 11-1, what does that do to the locker room ? there is always this fear about the locker room chemistry. not so much the lifestyle choice or the sexual preference choice but what it does to the chemistry of the locker room .
>> and the fear of how the team will be perceived.
>> go ahead.
>> that's a weird contradiction. you do feel and see that in the locker room chemistry but you also feel this fraternal male bonding where people look out for each other and sometimes, i feel that bonding of looking out, blood is thicker than water , can trump homophobia so some gay players may be out to their teammates but not necessarily to the public.
>> we are going to stay on exactly that. we had a player just recently who did something that we want to just take note of. thanks to my guests. peter will stay with us. up next, the nba star who gave us a favorite play of the day. copd makes