Position Labeling in the NFL: An Anthropological Study of the Labels Imposed on Professional Football Players

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Watts, Nicholas
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University Honors College, Middle Tennessee University
This thesis examines the labels imposed on professional football players in the NFL and the cultural impacts these labels have on players and the sport of gridiron football from an anthropological perspective. These labels are durable, complex, and subjective in nature, and they encompass aspects of ethnicity, identity, and masculinity perpetrated by a phenomenon [in sports] known as the “Look Test.” In this process, players are reduced to a positional label in a hyper-masculine environment by such subjective qualifications as precedence, race, and athleticism. Three examples of these labels are observed and analyzed: The Instinctual Polynesian Defender, and the two most prominent quarterback labels: Dual Threat and Pocket Passer. In the final chapter, current Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota serves as a case study following these examples, displaying those characteristics of durability, complexity, and subjectivity in his career, as well as his unique status as an exception to all three positional labels. In analyzing these football identifications, this thesis thus adds to our understanding of how the influence of race, ethnicity, and masculinity is created and perpetuated at the everyday level.
anthropology, polynesian, football, labeling, culture, pocket passer, dual threat