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SANTA CLARA - The 49ers have a masculinity problem.

Don't get me wrong. They are as masculine as they have to be, a bunch of men's men. But when it comes to other teams and other players, the Niners don't see the right amount of masculinity, don't approve of the masculinity level. Frankly, they see a masculinity gap. We'll call this gap The NFL's Masculinity Problem as perceived by the San Francisco 49ers.

For example, Patrick Willis, known to be manly, does not approve of the masculinity level of Seahawks' right guard J.R. Sweezy who, Willis said, illegally hit nose tackle Ian Williams too low resulting in Williams breaking his ankle.

"I feel like it's a man sport — be a man, hit me up high. Hit like rams. You don't see a ram going and cutting another ram's legs. They hit head to head, pad to pad. I feel like that's something the league should look into more. You see some of that stuff, and it's uncalled for. You have a guy who's 300 pounds cutting a guy who's 250 pounds. Do physics to that. Hit the man up high. It should be a good collision."

You get Willis' point. Sweezy didn't play like a man. He played dirty like a coward, although no official called a penalty on him. That doesn't matter. According to Willis, there is a code of behavior, a manly code, and Sweezy violated it. Not a manly thing to do.

I must point out that, in his quote, Willis advised Sweezy to be a man and then advised him to act like a ram when he hits a defender. Presumably Willis meant ram, the animal, and not Ram the St. Louis kind. It is difficult to imagine a man being a ram. I wish Willis had explained this phenomenon further. We may have to resort to Greek mythology to find a ram-man or a man-ram. Is there one? Will a classicist please enlighten us?

Willis was not the first 49er to notice the severe masculinity gap on the Seahawks. Leading up to Sunday's game, Anthony Dixon, who plays some of the time for the 49ers, called the Seahawks the "She-Hawks." This was meant as a slight. If I am reading Dixon correctly, he asserted the Seahawks are more woman than man. And I guess it's worse to be a woman than a man. Remember, the gender disparager is Dixon not me.

So, again there's a paucity of masculinity — low testosterone in the Seahawks' Testa Rossa.

Seahawks' cornerback Richard Sherman took note of the She-Hawks remark in his postgame comments. "I think there was a misogynistic thing said earlier in the week about the Seahawks," Sherman gloated.

"I think he meant the SeaGals (the Seahawks' cheerleaders), and I thought he didn't know the name. I get it; SeaGals/ "She-Hawks."

It's safe to say Sherman was funning with the Niners. When you beat a team 29-3, you're entitled to fun. You're also secure in your masculinity.

Where did the 49ers' preoccupation with masculinity come from in the first place?

From Jim Harbaugh, that's where.

The day after the 49ers beat the Packers, Harbaugh delivered an extended monologue about Clay Matthews' masculinity — the lack thereof. Harbaugh explained that Matthews hit Joe Staley's helmet with an open hand, a slap — i.e. a girly move.He said Matthews needs to use knuckles, although anyone who would break a knuckler against a helmet is a knucklehead. Until Matthews becomes a knuckler, Harbaugh said, he must restore his image in the league. In other words, Matthews needs to prove he's a man.

Harbaugh's anti-Matthews monologue was amusing. I was there when he delivered it and it made me laugh. But players follow the lead of the coach and, if the coach calls players non-men, so will — and do — his players. Aside from any sexist overtones — and they are there galore — what is the problem with this approach?

It means the coach and players are thinking about verbal putdowns and one-liners and winning the game of word play before they play the next game. This is what Harbaugh routinely does. Before the Packers he complained — whined? — for an entire week that the NFL's rules regarding the read-option play were unfair, that the league should change the rules for him, that the league was biased against him.

Harbaugh already had beaten the Packers and yet he devoted time before the Seahawks game to scripting his Matthews' putdown — it sure felt scripted — and delivering it to the media and his team.

There was another possible approach available to him. He could have started prepping for the Seahawks. The Seahawks sure were prepping. No one heard them talking about real men and rams.

The terrible loss Sunday night has to go directly on the shoulders of Harbaugh. He ran his mouth before the Green Bay game, and he ran his mouth before the Seattle game. All of that brazen chatter distracted the team from the real objective and the focus needed for the actual games. Instead, it focused everyone on Harbaugh's personal vendettas and his personal narratives.

It was juvenile on his part and it didn't help win the Seattle game — the Niners can beat the Packers every time. It presented a coach who gets too high after wins. Coaches who get too high always crash.

But in his weekly Monday news conference, Harbaugh acted differently. He politely refused to be baited into criticizing Sherman for so-called dirty tactics while guarding 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin. He refused to talk again about his displeasure with rules regarding the read-option, one of his big themes lately. He praised the Seahawks. He said he needs to improve his run game, but politely declined to go into detail — surely his prerogative.

He was entirely on message about next Sunday's game about the Colts, no detours, no wise cracks, no whining. He was sober, serious and straightforward, how you want a coach to be. This is progress. You hope he can change for the better permanently so his team just can play football and drop the drama and the theatrics. But it is easy to be well-grounded after a loss. Harbaugh's real test comes after a win.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.