Jenkins develops the idea of an unadulterated, although not naive, joy in sports values. These values are largely male-oriented in Semi-Tough, but they are also human values: the pleasure of competition, fair play, and team loyalty. Buried underneath the locker room horseplay, there is a complex fabric of affection and unspoken male bonding that makes race differences, the cynicism that arises from being treated as an object, and wild disparities in intelligence and skill peripheral.
In the very best sense, Jenkins's novel celebrates boys' values; his narrator ends almost every chapter with some ritualized taunt aimed at the opposing team: "Death to the dog-ass Jets." A man playing a boy's game triumphs by exhibiting a boy's strengths: enthusiasm; a simple, unquestioned loyalty to teammates and friends; a love for the game that transcends the dross that threatens to overcome it; boundless, undirected energy; and an inexhaustible capacity for good-spirited naughtiness.