Just Masculine Enough to Cry? Male Athletes and the Expression of Emotion in Competitive Sports

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Macarthur, Heather Jean
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 13, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Stephanie A. Shields, Dissertation Advisor
  • Stephanie A. Shields, Committee Chair
  • Reginald B. Adams, Committee Member
  • Janet van Hell, Committee Member
  • Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, Outside Member
  • gender
  • masculinity
  • sports
  • crying
  • emotion
Despite prominent stereotypes suggesting that men do not and should not shed tears, crying in men’s competitive sports is commonplace. No research, however, has examined why men’s crying may be more prominent in competitive sports than in other contexts, nor how crying is perceived by observers in comparison to other expressions of emotion. In Study 1, I tested the hypothesis that men’s crying is perceived as more acceptable when it occurs in stereotypically masculine rather than stereotypically feminine settings, and assessed how crying in competitive sports is perceived relative to another expression of emotion: yelling. Participants (N= 201) read a vignette about a male athlete either crying or yelling over a loss in a stereotypically masculine sport (weightlifting) or a stereotypically feminine sport (figure skating). Participants then rated the target on emotional appropriateness, emotional strength, how likely they would be to express emotion as the target did (emotional conformity), and how interested they would be in having the target as a teammate (teammate interest). Results indicated that crying athletes were rated more favorably than yelling athletes across the dependent variables, with no interactions emerging with type of sport. Mediation analyses did suggest, however, that participants judged the emotional expressions of (individual) athletes positively to the extent that they were perceived as masculine. In Study 2, I investigated how male athletes themselves understand displays of crying in sports. Specifically, in a qualitative interview study, I asked 15 male competitive athletes at Penn State how they negotiate the meaning of sports-related tears in relation to stereotypes about masculine emotionality. Results of a discourse analysis indicated that most athletes framed tears as a normal and acceptable part of sport, drawing on discourses of athletes as passionate to position themselves as masculine in relation to incidents of crying. Several athletes, however, framed crying as a sign of weakness, and drew on discourses of sports as tough and masculine to construct crying as incompatible with sports culture. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.