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The Gender and Identity of Football: A Conversation with Matthieu Proulx

Mirren Bodanis - Editor-in-Chief



Photo Credit: Buzzfeed


Portions of interview translated from French


In the subculture of queer sports fans, the Super Bowl is an event that is as homoerotic as it is American. In the words of queer, ex-high school football player Gordon Bowness in his groundbreaking 1993 article Repression Can Be Lots of Fun, “The terminology is ridiculous. The predictable offense penetrates deep into enemy territory with ball control, splits the defenses, finds the hole, punches it through and shoves it up their ass; [...] But I’m talking about more than just the obvious, more than bum-patting, locker-room cock-talk or showers.” A study by the University of Ohio found that while 60% of heterosexual men identify as “passionate sports fans,” 40% of gay women and 30% of gay men also share this identification.

But despite the obvious (to some) tension within the sport, the NFL remains an extremely outwardly heterosexual institution. Carl Nassib remains the only player who has publicly come out while being an active player in the history of the NFL, while playing for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021.

So how does this all add up? How are football players typecast as the typical straight “jocks'' while communally showering nude and chasing balls? Matthieux Proulx is a father of 2, current sports analyst at RDS and has played for the Montréal Alouettes for 6 seasons. In an interview with The Plant, he explores the many intersections between football, sports fans, sports culture, and his own identity.

The culture of football is still vivid in his memory. “Always in football, you have to be tough, physically and mentally,” he says. “You always are sore, having injuries, [...] good games, bad games, somebody wants your job, public pressure, [...] a good athlete is one that makes good decisions and does the right thing in situations of immense pressure, so we are constantly cultivating that.”

Despite sounding intimidating, he made it clear how important and universal this culture was to him. “Can it overlap into something negative? Probably. But essentially, I think it’s very positive. It got me to be able to face different situations and be able to say ‘this is tough, but I can do it.’” He continues: “For me it was very rewarding [...] I never thought about it as a challenge to my manhood. [...] I think I’m a pretty calm, cool, collected guy, but I found that environment was conducive to bringing out the best in me.” “

Despite his positive experience, he made it clear that, while he never consciously associated his athleticism with his sexuality, the language that would do so was always present. “I think sports greatly influenced me, both how I am and how I behave with people.” “For someone who isn’t good at football, we would say ‘you’re soft,’ ‘you’re a f*ggot’; in French we would say ‘t’est tapette’. [...] With the vocabulary we used, being tough made you a man, and to be soft or less capable made you less of a man.”

Interestingly, Matthieux also explained how this disconnect between his inner experience and the attitude of the culture also mirrored itself in the relationship between fans and players. “In North America, after talking with people for the first time, we always ask ‘what do you do in life?’ We identify people as what they do, not as who they are.” He further elaborates: “Fans don’t realize that sports are just what I do, not what I am. [...] It's contradictory to our era, where we want to know everything about everyone. We follow athletes on our phones, so we can go ‘oh, they ate at this restaurant, oh here’s their girlfriend’. Sports fans want to know everything about athletes, but at the same time when they’re on the field, they respect them less than ever. [...] I’m a father, a husband, a friend, a son, I have weaknesses, difficult moments, depressions, [...] but the fans, they don’t care. They just want me to be a football player who wins. It can become toxic, the relationship with fans.”

Finally, turning back to our inciting topic, Mattieux reflected how all these forces shape the complex culture of male intimacy in football. “Statistically, it’s impossible that I’ve never played with gay players, but I couldn’t name you one. I played football for 13 years, with over 800 people, but they kept it for themselves. It’s sad to think about. [...] But at the same time, the closeness [between players], funnily enough, as a heterosexual, felt good. It’s fun, I like to feel close with the other men. Embracing, hitting each other's rears, each other's helmets, it felt good for me to have that human contact. But there’s this kind of limit in the locker room that you don’t cross. [It’s like] ‘just be tough, hit each other, but don’t like it, touch each other, but don’t like it.’ I can see that thinking in a part of the population, but I think it’s very close minded.”

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