“I Hate Christian Laettner” and the Persistence of Hegemonic Masculinity and Heteronormativity in Sporting Cultures

  • Nathan Kalman-Lamb


Discourse analysis of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “I Hate Christian Laettner” (2015) reveals that despite increasing acceptance of a wider range of gender expression in North America over recent decades, hegemonic masculinity (Connell, Masculinities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1995) remains the dominant form of legitimate masculine identity in the realm of sport and popular culture. The film’s portrayal of 1990s Duke University basketball star Christian Laettner seems to chart a shift toward a more inclusive understanding of masculinity in its critique of Laettner’s behavior and its depiction of his apparent challenge to heteronormativity. Yet, a close reading of the film reveals that it in fact reproduces hegemonic masculinity through an endorsement of coercive entitlement (Burstyn, The rites of men: Manhood, politics, and the culture of sport. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) and heteronormativity. The film appears to complicate hegemonic masculinity by problematizing Laettner’s aggressive tendencies and the heteronormative context of 1990s Duke University. Yet, ultimately “I Hate Christian Laettner” reproduces the legitimacy of coercive entitlement through its depiction of Laettner’s socialization into masculine norms in his family home, his reproduction of those norms at Duke, and the ultimate validation of that process through national championships and the endorsement of legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski. Likewise, heteronormativity is reproduced through present-day interviews in which Laettner and former teammate Brian Davis disavow their youthful behavior and through a historical narrative in which Laettner uses rumors around his sexual identity as fuel for masculine aggression and domination. Ultimately, the film appropriates the complexly gendered figure of Laettner as a masculine hero for a new generation.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan Kalman-Lamb
    • 1
  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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