Athletics and Masculinity: Allegations of Harassment in My Own Backyard

9 Dec

Several weeks ago, the editors of Masculinities 101, all graduate students at Stony Brook University, raised an eyebrow when we received a mass email from our university president, informing us that the director of the athletics department, Jim Fiore, was leaving his post and an interim director was taking his place. Within a few days, we became even more suspicious when a fellow graduate student sent around an article from the local newspaper, Newsday, stating that Fiore was not only leaving, but would be paid out his $800,000 contract. Later that week, no one was surprised when allegations of sexual harassment emerged as the primary reason for Fiore’s departure from Stony Brook University.

According to initial sources, the victims were female members of the coaching staff. No formal grievances were filed by the women, but the allegations were enough for Stony Brook University to ask Fiore to leave. Katie Fagan, from espnW, followed up with a report, claiming that Fiore sent inappropriate text messages to female coaches and student-athletes from his university-issued phone and that he interrogated the female staff about their sexuality. It seems that as Stony Brook became a more successful athletics department, the environment became more hostile for women and especially gay women.

A substantial literature, especially the influential works by Michael Messner, describes the relationship between sports and masculinity/hypermasculinity. In Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity, Messner explains that historically, the world of sports is an institutional arena that reinforces and reproduces masculine identities. Challenges to the masculine nature of sports, such as the inclusion of women and greater acceptance of gay athletes, may lead to greater policing of masculinity. In this sense, Fiore’s actions are unsurprising. Fiore made women, and especially gay women who challenge heterosexuality, uncomfortable and unwelcome to reinforce his identity as a strong, masculine leader in a staunchly heterosexist environment.

What is surprising is Stony Brook University’s reaction to the allegations. Rather than releasing the information about the suspected harassment to the university, the president sent a cryptic email about the Fiore’s departure. Staff and students only learned of the harassment and of the buy-out of the contract from news sources. This clandestine behavior has led many at our university to believe that the administration attempted to sweep the problem under the rug to preserve the reputation of the athletics department.

Whatever the reason for the university’s actions, this moment gives us an opportunity to contemplate legitimate courses of action in such a situation. Asking Fiore to leave was probably a good choice. Paying out his contract probably wasn’t. This sends the message that while gender and sexual orientation based harassment is impermissible, it is not so impermissible that there will be substantial repercussions. Not disclosing the reason for Fiore’s departure might not have been the best course of action, but the university may have wanted to protect the women victims from additional inquiry and potentially more harassment. Yet, hiding the harassment was never a realistic course of action in a world where information is easily accessed and disseminated and the cover up may have interfered with the victims’ ability to pursue institutional and legal recourse.

As scholars and activists interested in issues of masculinity, what do you think of the events unfolding at Stony Brook University? What course of action do you think the university should have taken?

Suggested Readings:

Connell, Raewyn. 2008. “Masculinity construction and sports in boys’ education: a framework for thinking about the issue.” Sports, Education and Society 13(2): 131-145.

Messner, Michael and Don Sabo. 1994. Sex, Violence, and Power in Sports: Rethinking Masculinity. Crossing Press.

Some scholars have noted the declining significance of homophobia is the social arena of sports. See Anderson, Eric. 2011. Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinities. New York: Routledge.

One Response to “Athletics and Masculinity: Allegations of Harassment in My Own Backyard”

  1. Teri Tiso December 9, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Actually there was an official harrassment report filed by an athletics department employee, and at least two other cases of sex and possible age discrimination complaints brought to the attention of university officials over the past few years. It is fear of professional suicide that prevents the women from going public. In this world, the mostly male AD’s quickly spread the word about a specific coach, and she will no longer be asked to interview for that job she is well qualified for. I have asked President Stanley why current faculty/staff senate committees were not consulted about these ongoing discriminatory practices that were apparently well known to many. Sadly, his response only added to the obfuscation and lack of transparency and accountability from our administration. We want to believe that administrators make decisions in the best interests of students, faculty, and staff. Unfortunately, when it comes to sport, it appears that it is more about money, power, and image as defined by the mostly male policy makers.

    Some references for further study:

    V. Krane, H. Barber. Identity tensions in lesbian intercollegiate coaches. Research Quarterly for Exercise and sport, 2005.

    Pat Griffin.

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