The Power of Sports Metaphors in Politics: Trump vs. Clinton as The Main Event

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Gender norms influence not just what we think, but how. Consider the presence of sports metaphors in American politics. Metaphors are not merely figures of speech. According to the cognitive scientists and philosophers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), human thought processes are largely metaphorical.

Metaphors from sports such as basketball and baseball regularly surface in political speech. But arguably the two most metaphorically influential sports in presidential campaign rhetoric are boxing and football. Not coincidentally, they are both violent sports that attract a disproportionate percentage of male participants and fans.

It is only possible to speculate about how much of the white male vote is determined by impressions about the relative “manliness” or “toughness” of candidates or political parties. But there is no doubt that for several decades, violence—both our individual and collective vulnerability to it, and questions about when and how to use the violent power of the state to protect the “national interest”—has been an ominous and omnipresent factor in numerous foreign policy and domestic political issues (e.g. the Cold War, Vietnam, the “War on Terror,” the invasion of Iraq, the emergence of ISIS, gun control, and executive, legislative, and judicial responses to violent crime).

The frequent use of boxing and football metaphors in political discourse did not cause violence to become such an important force in our politics, but this usage is one measure of how presidential campaigns can be less about policy differences and complex political agendas than they can be about the selling of a certain kind of executive masculinity, embodied in a particular man whom the public comes to know largely through television and other technologies of mass communication.

Boxing metaphors play a crucial role in defining presidential campaigns as the ultimate arena for masculine competition. Boxing is a prototypical working-class or poor man’s (or, more recently, woman’s) sport that strips the notion of physical combat to its barest essence: man against man in a fight to the finish.

Boxing has historically been a male bastion, and it remains so in the twenty-first century. But women’s boxing now occupies a small—but highly visible—cultural space. It is probably too early to tell how the increased popularity of women’s boxing has affected the power of masculine symbolism associated with the sport. In any case, the 2008 political season broke new linguistic ground, at first because the presence of Hillary Clinton in the ranks of political “heavyweights” complicated the boxing metaphors. Politicians and political commentators had to choose whether or not to use language that had men metaphorically hitting a woman, and vice versa. (They largely decided in favor of using the language in gender-neutral fashion.)

Since football is a violent sport, football metaphors bring violent language and imagery to political discourse. They also subtly and overtly link politics to warfare. Football metaphors with military analogs that are used commonly by sportscasters and sportswriters, such as “throwing the bomb,” “penetrating the zone,” and “air game vs. ground game,” ensure that the language of football and the language of war cross-reference each other.

Establishment politicians—men and women—who use this sort of language can thus prove their mastery, or at least familiarity, with two important masculine domains: football and the military.

As Reagan and many others have proven, this can be an effective way for wealthy candidates to show blue-collar males that they’re one of the guys (especially if they’re men)—whether or not their economic program addresses working people’s concerns or represents their interests.

Overall, sports metaphors continue to dominate political discourse. Some relatively new ones have emerged, such as when careless statements by candidates are referred to in tennis vernacular as “unforced errors.” The Republican Party scheduled a series of 2016 Southern primaries that have been dubbed the SEC primaries, after the collegiate athletic conference.

Pundits muse about whether a candidate has a good enough “ground game” to win primaries. And boxing metaphors are as ubiquitous as ever, especially in media commentary about presidential debates. A new twist: for each of the first few televised debates of the 2016 primary season, Fox News staged two debates. The leaders in the polls appeared in prime time at the “main event,” while the second tier competed in what was widely referred to as “the undercard.”

With the first televised debate of the 2016 general election season set for September 26, watch for a barrage of boxing metaphors to flood the airwaves and op-ed pages. But don’t expect much serious analysis of the significance of these metaphors.

Most commentators will simply recite the predictable lines about whether one or another of the candidates will throw the “knockout punch,” without any awareness that the ubiquitous use of these sorts of metaphors helps to shape ideologies and voting behaviors. 

Jackson Katz is the author of Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity

More About Jackson Katz

Jackson Katz, Ph.D. is an educator, author, filmmaker and cultural theorist, who is internationally renowned for his pioneering scholarship and activism on issues of gender and violence. He is co-founder of the groundbreaking and widely influential Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the first system-wide gender violence prevention program in the sports culture and the U.S military. He is the creator of the award-winning educational documentaries Tough Guise and Tough Guise 2.

His influential first book is entitled The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. An acclaimed public speaker whose TED talk has garnered close to 3 million views, he lectures widely in the U.S. and around the world on violence, media and masculinities. He has a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, a Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in cultural studies and education from UCLA. A Boston native, Katz lives with his family in the Los Angeles area.

Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity (Interlink Publishing, April 2016) can be purchased from Amazon and other booksellers nationwide. More information about Jackson Katz can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Haute Tease

  • Season of Salt and Honey Review - Charming Depiction of Twists and Turns Life Serves Up

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Season of Salt and Honey, a novel by Hannah Tunnicliffe, is another page turner penned with her skillful artistic strokes adding layers of human emotions intertwining untimely heartache and natural healing process with the magic remedies of culinary creations.

     
  • DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY Review – A Rock and Roll Fantasy Come True

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY tells the story of how JOURNEY, the mega successful American rock band, was reborn through social media and an unknown singer plucked from obscurity.

     
  • The Big Sick Review – Genuinely Funny, Entertaining, A Modern Romantic Comedy

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Big Sick, from Lionsgate and FilmNation Entertainment, present the story of love, with all the difficulties of the comedic modern romance, of culture, of memories of relationships past, and family ties that bind, break, and hold.

     
  • Dalida Review – French Bio-Pic Captivates

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Dalida, from Pathe and TF1 Films Productions, presents a beautiful and heartbreaking story of the 1950’s French idol, who over thirty years sold nearly 170 million records worldwide and enchanted adorning fans and charming audiences all over the globe.

     
  • Kerridge’s Bar & Grill Opens On September 10, 2018 At Corinthia Hotel London

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Corinthia Hotel London is proud to announce that renowned Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, will open his first London restaurant, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, at the hotel on Monday, September 10, 2018, with reservation lines now open. 

     
  • The Sound of Summer

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Despite setting my alarm clock every evening, what wakes me isn't the buzzing of some mechanical gadget, but rather the vigilant woodpecker dedicated to his craft right outside my window.

     
  • Mollie Tibbets, Iowa College Student, Found Dead; Illegal Immigrant Arrested

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The remains of Mollie Tibbets, 20, of Brooklyn, Iowa, who went missing five weeks ago have been found in a cornfield in Poweshiek county, twelve miles southeast of where the University of Iowa junior was last seen.

     
  • Jake Gyllenhaal Talks Source Code

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

     SOURCE CODE, the mind bending DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE experimentation adventure, from SUMMIT Entertainment and Vendome Pictures starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Duncan Jones opens everywhere Friday, April 1, 2011.

     
  • La France de Macron et la France des Gilets Jaunes

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    La crise des Gilets Jaunes révèle l'existence de deux France que beaucoup oppose : Principes, histoire, croyances, ambition. Ni l'une ni l'autre ne cédera. Et l'issue de la crise de peut-être se trouver dans la disparition de l'un des deux.  

  • Phoenix Demon Dad Murders Infant Son

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Robert Anthony Resendiz, 30, has been charged in the murder of his six month old infant son on December 19, 2017 after he admitted to authorities of using approximately 65% of his strength to silence the baby.

     
  • Ensenada’s Hotel Coral & Marina Review - A Heavenly Escape

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Hotel Coral & Marina, a luxury Mexican resort that truly has it all for families, couples, groups or any well-heeled traveler seeking an easily accessible, all-encompassing South of the Border escape with endless Pacific Ocean views, all within a two hour drive from San Diego.

     
  • Beltway Insider: Trump Bans Media; Russian Cyber Trail; Travel Ban; Rachel Dolezel

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    President Trump went on the offensive this week barring seven major media outlets from a White House press conference over the unsympathetic reporting and general reporting that didn't fit his belief of media responsibility.

     
  • Beltway Insider: Trump/Mueller, ISIS Defeat, Brexit, NZ Unites, 2020 Election, Census

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Stopping short of total exoneration, Robert S. Mueller, Special Counsel Investigating the possibility of collusion between President Donald Trump and the Russians to secure a victory in the 2016 Presidential election, indicated the evidence was insufficient.

     
  • The House That Jack Built Review - A Shocking Mash Up of Horror Tinged With Humor

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The House That Jack Built, from Zentropa Entertainment and IFC Films, presents the story of Jack, an intelligent architect, and Obsessive-Compulsive serial killer who pin points five moments that changed the course of his own quest.

     
  • Alan Rickman, Iconic English Actor, Dies

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Alan Rickman, known as a diverse and generous talent, star of stage, television and the screen from the Harry Potter series to Love Actually, passed away due complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 69.