How Men Use the Phrase "From the Sidelines"

You know what no one says on his death bed? “If only I could have snarked more from the sidelines.”

— Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) June 6, 2012

“From the sidelines” is a sports term. “Cheering from the sidelines” can be a nice phrase. It means “I am rooting you on while watching you play.” If we are not clothed in rags and eating from dumpsters on Sunday, we will be cheering on New York Marathon runners from the “sidelines,” perhaps as they hop downed power lines along the shore after they cross the Verrazano.

But sometimes the “game” in question is a metaphor. And if you are on the “sidelines,” you are necessarily then “not in the game.” The above tweet from Esquire contract-man Chris Jones is meant, obviously, to deflect and devalue critique by placing himself “in the game” and others outside of it. Anyone with an objection or a contrary idea is just a “hater” in this construction.

“From the sidelines” is a favorite construction of men, and crops up in the act of mansplaining, though women definitely use it too. (As Lil Kim pointed out: “playa-hatin’ from the sideline, get your own shit, why you riding mine?”) So people use the phrase to explain that they are the players, and you are the benchwarmer, at most, or maybe just whoever else is on the sidelines — Jack Nicholson, I guess? Or some groupie. Someone ignored, while the important people slam some dunks.

This can seem particularly off-putting, this statement of position and status, because often these assertions come from people that don’t even register in your own life. Lots of us aren’t in each others’ “games.” That’s how life works. But most of us aren’t self-centered enough to think in these terms, and certainly we wouldn’t think to assert this status so as to put others down.

Y’all can hate from the sidelines . I don’t get mad I just get $$$$$$ .

— Sha Monique. (@LilHoneyDip_X3) October 31, 2012

That’s right. Don’t get mad. Get $$$$$$. (Who doesn’t love $$$$$$? Just… so why are you telling us about it?) That’s a besieged point of view, a solipsistic and unrealistic kind of martyrdom.

Here are two pretty remarkable recent examples, where men stepped up to tell women who were making statements on Twitter that they were, in one case, “tweeting from the sidelines,” and in the other, “bitching from the sidelines.”