Man Up Romo: The Binary Nature Of Masculinity In The NFL

Last week Tony Romo was the talk of the NFL, a rugged manly hero, playing through broken ribs to bring the Dallas Cowboys to a 27-24 victory over the 49ers. This did wonders for Romo's flagging image. Buthave you ever noticed that NFL quarterbacks are considered either to be the epitome of manliness or the complete opposite of that?  Those are the only two possible states an NFL quarterback can find himself in; there x no grey area. All quarterbacks of the modern era are at the mercy of this binary system of masculinity, Man or Not-Man,but no quarterback has found himself under more scrutiny in regards to this system than Tony Romo.

Romo’s career, up until the events of this past week, had been described as all steak but no sizzle. Most fans didn’t accept Romo’s “unexpected superstar” career path as destiny since he had never done anything to truly convince the fans that he could be a top-tier starter. Because of that, Romo had lived with the label most athletes live in fear of receiving: being overrated. A manly quarterback always rises to the occasion and meets his expectations. Romo had yet to reach his purported ceiling and was thus an inferior spokesperson for masculinity.

Even though Romo is believed to be a passionate team leader, his propensity to choke in important situations has frustrated scores of Cowboys players and fans alike. Within professional sports, choking is the most unmanly thing a man can possibly do outside of scrapbooking.

When news broke back in August that Romo held an alcohol devoid bachelor party highlighted by a rousing game of hide-and-seek, his man card was revoked. If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that bachelor parties are a necessary rite of passage into the next stage of manhood. For not going out in style, Romo was a bigger wuss than ever and it didn’t matter that he was getting hitched to Miss Missouri of 2008.

Now that he’s expected to be playing this Sunday with a broken rib and a recently healed punctured lung, Romo has finally been anointed as “Toughy McTougherson.” Risking permanent damage to a vital organ to play a game is all it takes to flip the script. In the matter of 3 hours, he went from Not-Man back to Man.

There are thirty-two starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and amazingly, not one of them is in limbo.  Peyton Manning was considered to be a towering inferno of machismo, but since he decided to inject his neck with stem cells and steel brackets towards the end of training camp, he is now facing an uncertain timetable for return. Manning is now considered weak and the “washed up” discussion has begun although that might be entirely premature. Peyton’s brother, Eli, has never been considered manly living in his big brother’s shadow.

Tom Brady, a name synonymous with success, isn’t even considered manly despite his prowess. His endorsement deal with Ugg and the pretty boy label doesn’t allude to a life of Wrangler Jeans and Remington bullets like Brett Favre’s career did.

Ben Roethlisberger’s visage is synonymous with masculinity since that same visage, sans helmet, slammed right into the windshield of a car during a motorcycle accident.  Roethlisberger also represents the dark and unfortunate side of man because of his past transgressions.

Romo is one of the few to shake the ethos bestowed upon him, but there’s nowhere to go but back from here. Makes you wonder how something as subjective as masculinity became so calcified in its binary nature. True or False. Manly or Not. Media scrutiny is never easy, but when that scrutiny entails revoking or bestowing one’s manhood, it must add a whole new layer to living under the microscope.

Written By Corey Nachman