The term jock, when used primarily in the United States, refers to the classic stereotype of a male athlete. It is generally attributed mostly to high school and college athletics participants who form a distinct youth subculture. In sociology, the jock is thought to be included within the socialite subculture, which also contains the preps and Ivy-Leaguers. As a blanket term, jock can be considered synonymous with athlete.
Similar words that may mean the same as jock include meathead, musclebrain, and musclehead. These terms are based on the stereotype that a jock is muscular, but not very smart, and cannot carry a conversation on any topic other than one relating to sports, exercise, or sex.
The use of the term "jock" to refer to an athletic man is thought to have emerged around 1963. It is believed to be derived from the word "jockstrap," which is an undergarment worn to support the male genitals while playing sports. Since then, the concept of a jock has become ingrained in American culture as a negative stereotype of athletically-oriented males.
Jocks are often contrasted with another negative stereotype, nerds. This dichotomy has been immortalized by countless references and themes in American movies, television shows, and books.
The following is a list which includes the various characteristics of the jock stereotype often borrowed by the media:
- Stuck-up and self-centered
- Rude and arrogant
- Handsome, muscular, and athletic
- Abusing alcohol and drugs
- Generally popular with girls
- Sex - earlier and more casual
- A bully against people who are "uncool" or less popular than they are such as nerds or outsiders
As such, a common belief is that jocks are given special treatment (such as little or no punishment for wrong behavior, and receiving undeserved passing grades) solely to maintain the jocks' athletic eligibility.
Portrayal in the media
Stereotypical jocks are often present in books, movies, and television shows involving high school or college. The stereotype is most prevalent in movies for teenagers such as College, American Pie, and Revenge of the Nerds. The stereotype extends beyond the high-school and collegiate age group, trickling down into media intended for younger audiences. Examples of this include the high school football quarterback Dash Baxter in the Nickelodeon cartoon Danny Phantom. Other notable portrayals of the stereotype include the popular athlete love interest Tommy Ross in Carrie, the spoiled bullying antagonist Luke Ward in the first season of The O.C., and Kim's wealthy athlete boyfriend Jim in Edward Scissorhands.
The mass media borrows many stereotypical characteristics of jocks, and they are commonly used to portray a character who is relatively unintelligent and unenlightened, but nonetheless socially and physically well-endowed. Usually, jocks will play aggressive sports such as football or basketball. Examples from television shows include Ryan Shay in the sitcom Suburgatory and Jimmy Armstrong (Dan Cortese) in the sitcom Hot in Cleveland. The main jock character often occupies a high position, such as the quarterback or captain of the football team. In many cases the jock is shown to come from a wealthy family: driving a fancy, expensive sports car or SUV, and wearing expensive, name-brand clothing; however, this is not always the case. In this regard there may be significant overlap with the preppie stereotype.
As a protagonist, the jock is often a dynamic character who through an epiphany or new understanding will lead to a change in the values of the jock. This change often means a cessation of athletics and/or some other equivalent social sacrifice which leads to the character no longer being considered a jock. Examples from movies include Randall "Pink" Floyd in Dazed and Confused and Andrew Clark in The Breakfast Club. Examples from television shows include Nathan Scott in the teen drama series One Tree Hill, Whitney Fordman in Smallville and Luke Ward in The O.C..
As antagonists, jocks can be stock characters shown as lacking compassion for the protagonist, and are generally flat and static. Often, in high school comedies or dramas where the main characters are not popular, the jock is the chief antagonist and cruel to the main characters. He is disliked by the nerds and other people considered unpopular, and usually has an unfortunate (and in some cases, violent and/or fatal) ending. Heathers' "Kurt" and "Ram" roles, the Spider-Man character Flash Thompson, football jocks and Connie D'Amico's cronies Scott and Doug in Family Guy, high school football captain Oliver Wilkerson in The Cleveland Show, Jean Grey's first boyfriend Duncan Matthews in X-Men: Evolution and Massimo Lenzetti (Justin Chambers) in the film The Wedding Planner are such examples. There are also numerous jock antagonists found in teen dramas such as the rapist Dean Walton from Degrassi, among others.
Education and athletics
The general perception that athletes are unintelligent is derived from the idea that athletic and academic success are mutually exclusive.
In 2005, Dr. Sabina Kleitman, a psychology professor at The University of Sydney and Herbert W. Marsh, employed at Oxford University for the same profession teamed together. The pair conducted surveys of over 12,000 American students to find a correlation between sports and grades. The following is a quote from their published results:
"Achievement can be measured in many ways—grades, homework, attendance, standardized test scores, and enrollment in college. In all of these areas except standardized test scores, even after controlling for economic status, race, and other background variables, athletic participation was significantly correlated to academic achievement. Even after controlling for academic success in 8th and 10th grade, athletic participation was still associated with positive academic outcomes in 13 out of 21 measures in 12th grade and 2 years out of high school. This suggests that athletic participation itself may be responsible for some academic achievement—the later achievement isn't completely explained by earlier academic success."
Despite the fact that many schools recruit for sports, they put stipulations in place that hold student athletes to high standards in order to maintain their scholarships. Schools recruit students to their athletic teams, but require a student maintain a certain grade-point average (GPA) in order to have the scholarship renewed. For many young athletes, this is imperative as they could not afford higher education on their own. Therefore, they balance proper study with the demands of their sport.
At the college level in the United States, the NCAA does have some education requirements that must be met for high school students to play in a Division I school, and to be eligible for a scholarship. The most recent standards passed by the NCAA, which will apply to all incoming college freshmen beginning with the class of 2016, requires that 16 core high school courses be completed by the student-athlete, 7 of which must be either math, science, or English, and 10 of those 16 classes must be completed prior to their senior year of high school. As well, the students must graduate high school with a minimum 2.3 GPA (up from the 2.0 GPA requirement that was in place prior to these new standards). Such requirements have been debated for years, however.
- Hearties - the equivalent term at Oxford University
- Nerd - for many intents the antonym of 'jock'
- Anti-jock movement
- Ivy League
- "Online Etymology Dictionary on Jock". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- Herman and Julia Schwendinger's sociological study on youth subcultures
- "Princeton's WordNet entry on Jock". Wordnetweb.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- Jocks as a Youth Subculture - from UCLA
- Jerk Jock - Television Tropes and Idioms
- "Aug 15, 2006 - results published at Science blogs". Scienceblogs.com. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- Sept 21, 2008 - Black Voices Online[dead link]
- O'Neil, Dana (6 August 2012). "Eligibility vs. academic preparedness". ESPN.com. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- Smith, Ronald A. (2011). Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.