I don't know. The whole thing is a bit confused and conflatey.
Now, I'm hardly squeamish about body parts. So, I didn't find the first few paragraphs of his piece, which relays a story about a pro football lineman's seeming obsession with showing off his testicles to other men, gross or anything. I was more just... bored by it.
Testicles. About half of humans have them, and most of the people who have them were born with them and didn't exactly, like, put conscious effort into obtaining them. So, when dudes like to show them off and act like it's a big huge accomplishment to have them, it's like... big whoop.
But it's an interesting display, psychologically. Indeed, Fleming let's us know right off what the ball exhibitionism is all about:
"They weigh less than an ounce each, are barely 1.5 inches long, and -- let's face it -- ain't much to look at, but thanks to the testosterone contained therein, testicles are no less than the symbolic plumbs of masculinity and dominance in our society."
Oh? So it's just an unarguable given that we think people with testicles are biologically destined for societal dominance?
Erkay. Maybe stick to sports writing, Mr. Fleming?
"They're like precious little crystal balls, revealing answers to many of the mysteries behind the physiology and sociology of sports.They are about fearlessness and recklessness more than bravery. They're about power, aggression and control more than gender, accolades or money. They're about the eagerness to fight more than they're about the outcome itself. Ultimately, balls are about the willingness to risk it all. 'A lot of having balls has to do with what's above your shoulders,' says MMA legend Dan Henderson. 'It means you'll do whatever it takes, go through any kind of pain, to get the job done.'"
I think I get it: While people with testicles are automatically in the Ball Club (until they prove otherwise by not being into dudelydudeman stuff like dominance and aggression), even some people without testicles can sometimes be in the Ball Club if they're lucky and they prove they're into dudelydudemanstuff like dominance and aggression.
(But, really, it's actually about literally having testicles.)
See, Fleming even interviewed several WorldWide Notable Experts On Balls, like Brendon Ayanbadejo, a football player for the Baltimore Ravens, who ballsplained:
"Balls literally determine winners. Nothing else does that. Not just on a molecular level, but the personality needed to win. Balls come down to this: Running down the field on a kickoff, headed for two 300-pound blockers, do you go around or do you speed up and try to hit them as hard as you possibly can? Anytime you see a touchdown on special teams, it's because of one thing. Balls."
Or, you know, courage. Or poor judgment. (Srsly, running as hard as you can at 300-pound people for sport?)
But then, if we just called it any of these things we couldn't pretend that courage was an essentially male trait that proved male dominance, could we?
I have written before of how America's love of football is a glorification of toxic, violent, and nihilistic hyper-masculinity. What the cult of Ball Worshippers call "fearlessness" and "recklessness," many in the medical community call "poisonous" and "too dangerous for its own good." After all, due to repeated blows to the head, ex-pro football players have been found to be 50 times more likely than the general population to have memory-related disease and 19 times as likely to be debilitated.
But, the violence that is celebrated in football is clung to precisely because it symbolizes a separation of the men from the women- a separation that's getting more and more difficult to delineate.
What I found to be an apt metaphor in Fleming's piece was his discussion of the fragility of balls. Citing a doctor, who probably actually is some sort of ball expert, he acknowledges that "severe testicle trauma" is actually very common in sports due to the testicles' location outside the protective skeletal structure.
Mariah Burton Nelson once said, "The stronger women get, the more men love football." In a world where women are equaling or outperforming men in previously all-male or mostly-male pursuits like college and many white collar professions, the fragility of male "dominance" and the concept of "manhood" itself becomes more exposed.
After all, if women can do the things that men can do, what does it even mean to be a man anymore?
As Fleming admits:
"...[T]here is a strong and unique link between balls, sports and the modern-day definition of manhood in America. With fewer ways to prove and celebrate masculinity, one set of balls has become profoundly connected and dependent on the other set of balls -- the baseballs, basketballs and footballs."
So, sure. It's silly and fun to write an article in ESPN about balls, telling cute little anecdotes about men exposing their balls to other men and so forth. But, more than anything, I found the piece to be incredibly sad.
Rather than exposing some natural, biologically-ordained "male dominance" or superiority, it exposes a very real, very visceral fear of gender neutrality and the resulting notion that maybe being a man isn't the super-duper most importantest type of human to be anymore. In addition to invisibilizing female heroism, courage, and athleticism, Fleming's piece is a celebration of men brutalizing other men for the symbolic purpose of proving that they're not women.
I read Fleming's article, and one image comes to mind. Not a fearsome gladiator. But a dude waving a "Men Are #1!" foam finger around in a homosocial sports bar, trying really hard to rally the insecure-in-their-manhood teammates and assure them that, despite how much damaging it can be to batter your brains into other Big Tuff Guys, doing so will totally prove men are still better than women.
I predict an increase in TruckNutz when the US elects its first female president.
[Tip of the ballret: Thanks to A.B. for passing this story along.]