Messner has a Bachelor degree in Social Sciences and a Master's degree in sociology from California State University in Chico, California. He wrote his dissertation in sociology at theUniversity of California, Berkeley, California about Masculinity and Sports: An Exploration of the Changing Meaning of Male Identity in the Lifecourse of the Athlete.
In the late 1970s, he started to deal with feminist theory and the construction of gender. He took part in one of the first ever classes about men and masculinity in the USA, held by Bob Blauner in Berkeley.
- Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity, Beacon Press; Reissue edition 1995, ISBN 978-0-8070-4105-5
- Men's Lives (with Michael Kimmel). Macmillan, 1989, 1992, 1995.
- Sport, Men, and the Gender Order: Critical Feminist Perspectives, (with Don F. Sabo) (eds.), Human Kinetics Publishers, 1990, ISBN 978-0-87322-281-5
- Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements, Thousand Oaks 1997, ISBN 978-0-8039-5576-9
- Taking the Field: Women, Men, and Sports, University of Minnesota Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-8166-3449-1
- (with McKay, Jim, Michael und Don Sabo) (eds.): Masculinities, Gender Relations, and Sport. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (Research on Men and Masculinities Series, No. 13), 2000
- Boyhood, Organized Sports and the Construction of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 18:416-444. Pipher, Mary. 1994 ( short summary)