Ballers, the HBO dramedy about the business of football and the players that keep it going, debuted its third season Sunday night after Game of Thrones. It’s definitely a series for sports fans, but also introduces themes of love, addiction, and success in order to draw in a bigger audience. The fact that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays lead character Spencer Strasmore — a retired NFL player that is trying to regain his footing (and wealth) in player management — is enough for me to watch. Yet Sunday night's premiere, which talked about a familiar issue — infertility — from a rarely-seen perspective on television, added another layer of complexity to the already engaging show.
When he learns of Ricky’s (the very attractive son of Denzel Washington, John David Washington) pregnancy scare with a woman he isn’t sure he wants to have a child with, Spencer reminds him of the dangers of unprotected sex. Ricky inquires about whether or not Spencer has gotten anyone pregnant, or at least had a close call, and Spencer is faced with the reality that he has never conceived. He tells Ricky that it’s because his “pull-out game” — the withdrawal method for those of you not familiar with sex slang — is strong, but Ricky urges him to consider that he might have a physical condition. Later, during a doctor’s visit, Spencer accepts a referral to a fertility specialist. Now that the topic has been broached, he’s nervous that he might not be able to have children on his own.
Despite the fact that it takes two people make a baby, women often bear the burden of stressing and dealing with the realities of infertility. It’s often viewed, and portrayed on television, as a women’s issue. It's extremely rare to see a character like Spencer, who embodies all of the traits of hyper-masculinity and macho manliness, forced to confront the issue. The reality of infertility is a little less biased. Men can and do have medical conditions that cause infertility as well. And although there is not as much pressure on men to have kids, there is still stigma and shame that surrounds men “shooting blanks.”
One of the tenets of male privilege is the way men are socialized to have total control over bodies and sexuality. (Must be nice.) They get to dictate the terms and conditions under which they have sex and babies. It’s why the idea of having a strong “pull-out game” is seen as an asset. That men are able to “avoid” getting a woman pregnant is another manifestation of this destiny (though anyone who has taken an eighth grade health class knows the withdrawal method is not the most reliable form of birth control) .
But the fact also remains that a lot of men want to be parents, too. The possibility that they may not be able to do so by the traditional methods prompts feelings that aren’t popularized in media. Spencer’s fear on Ballers is something we definitely need to see more of.