The symbolic code, the metaphor, the figure of representation.
Moreover, we shall refrain from structuring the symbolic grouping; this is the place for multivalence and for reversibility; the main task is always to demonstrate that this field can be entered from any number of points, thereby making depth and secrecy problematic.
Although symbols cannot be defined as absolutes and are therefore inherently open to discussion, certain symbols may turn out to be charged enough to attract the attention of many, and within a society of dominant values, the same atomic units of narrative will give rise to similar interpretations that cluster around a common concept. In the case of football, that symbol may well be masculinity and power although, as is argued further on, said masculinity constitutes a delightful showcase of how football is inherently paradoxical.
The tackles within the game denote symbols of attacking, opposition, antagonism, power, and in general, a phallic expression of one's physical stamina. (SYM. Masculine power) Any active form of attack can be defined as phallic, in that the target will have to be conquered, kept under control, and in a manner of speaking, semantically penetrated. This contrasts markedly with most martial arts disciplines, where the main motivation revolves around defending oneself and / or using the opponent's power in a cyclic manner, utilizing the opponent's attack as a weapon to be employed against him in the end. Western culture would characterize the fighter as a node which applies its own power to another node (SYM. The phallic symbol) wheras eastern mentality would characterize the fighter as a node which receives said power from the other node, modifies its direction, and outputs it through a different channel in a way that best serves its welfare (SYM. The pistillate symbol).
The pure masculinity of football players is questionable at best, though. Although this text will attempt to refrain from raising any doubts concerning the players' sexual orientation, some points will have to be brought up on the basis of symbolic consistency. Firstly, the bonding within any group of males with a common purpose constitutes an inherently risky subject. We must note, at this point, that the male psyche holds self respect and social status paramount. Therefore any social circle composed entirely of (highly competent) males poses a problematic for the potentially insecure male and may cause him to perform even worse at his assigned task than he usually would, due to stress or self-consciousness. On a completely different note, male bonding has taken on various guises throughout history. Although some would hold that a friendship between two males can be a rewarding experience based solely on trust and goodwill, others claim that every relationship between two males is deeply rooted within homosexuality. This phenomenon could be observed in the Roman army, where homosexual couples would fight with a vengeance in an attempt to make sure that their lovers would survive the battle. Moreover, the existence of an emotional bond between the partners during a period of high stress would serve as a natural remedy - social interaction induces increased production of endorphin, which lowers stress levels.
Although relationships of this nature would be a lot less likely among football players than among Roman soldiers, certain symbols point to the contrary. The top half of any football player symbolizes the ideal masculine form. An intimidating helmet which ironically resembles those worn by Roman soldiers, as well as chest and shoulder pads which accentuate the already highly muscular region, all add to a highly consistent image. The tights are another story, however - apart from the crotch pad worn for obvious safety concerns, they lead to a direct display of bodily form which implies weakness within the context of masculine conflict. It does not make sense for the top half of the player to be clad in metaphorical armor, whereas the bottom half remains hardly protected. The fact that said tights would not look out of place on a ballet dancer only adds to the paradox. Finally, some of the celebratory actions, such as patting one another on the bottom, remain dubious at best. Should those actions be considered as acknowlegements of one another's weaknesses within the team and possibly an oath to watch out for one another during the game, or should one interpret a deeper emotional and sexual message within that act, one which may be both empowering and weakening?
The most fascinating aspect of this whole discourse is the fact that the majority, if not the totality, of all football fans would not even dream of interpreting the feminine symbolism within the game. Football is considered to be a masculine sport, and despite remarkable historical and aesthetic evidence to the contrary, it remains a purely male-centered game.
This simply goes to show that symbolism may be a lot more complex than stereotypes would lead one to believe, with reality checks necessitated on multiple levels to reach even remotely satisfying conclusions.
If one Barthesian code can give rise to such paradoxes, what can you expect from the others?