In sports, the locker room is a sacred place. It houses your hopes, your frustrations, invaluable conversations with friends, incalculable moments of joy and the heaviest instances of despair. Locker rooms are supposed to bind athletes together and strengthen friendships. So with all that in mind, I ask: where does sexual assault fit into “locker room talk”?
It is likely that you have already heard the recently released tape of Donald Trump’s 2005 conversation with Billy Bush. In the recording, Trump describes making a variety of sexual advances on women, concluding his comments by saying “when you’re a star they let you do it … grab them by the p–––y.” When questioned about the tapes, Trump has repeatedly dismissed these words as “locker room talk.” However, according to a number of professional athletes, Trump’s comments are far from a reflection of what actually gets said behind closed doors.
“Even the most debauched club-hopping party animal talks about women more civilly than [Trump],” former Minnesota Vikings punter Chis Kluwe wrote in an op-ed for Vox. “We don’t let each other talk like that about women, because it lessens our humanity, and even though we’re modern-day gladiators, we still hold ourselves accountable to the idea of basic human decency.”
Nobody is claiming that locker rooms aren’t home to an ample amount of raunchy chats or dirty jokes, but athletes like Kluwe are helping dispel the notion that men’s sports locker rooms are safe havens for sexism, debauchery and general intolerance. What Trump said wouldn’t be acceptable in the National Football League, the National Basketball Association or any major sports league. The reason is simple: it wasn’t just raunchy banter, it was sexual assault apologism.
To speak on the matter of locker room talk from a more personal perspective, I myself was a varsity athlete for all four years of my high school career. While not on the level of Kluwe, LeBron James or Jason Collins, all of whom have weighed in on the Trump controversy, I did spend an inordinate amount of time inside locker rooms with 20 other male teammates. When we talked about women, we absolutely talked about sex — not all of the time, but quite frequently. Some of the things we said were, regrettably, lewd, objectifying or insensitive. We were 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids and we gave very little thought to what came out of our mouths.
With all of that being said, my high school soccer teammates and I still had better sense than to laugh and joke about making unwarranted sexual advances on women. A bunch of teenagers, apparently, possessed better personal judgment skills than a man, then in his sixties, who is now running for president. The reason Trump’s comments wouldn’t be acceptable in any locker room isn’t that they “rub people the wrong way” or that they’re “a little offensive.” No, what Donald Trump described doing is using one’s position of power or prestige to prey upon women sexually. That isn’t raunchy, or funny or off-color; it’s sadistic, sexist and wrong.
Furthering the idea that male athletes, in or out of the locker room, are a bunch of insensitive, sex-crazed jerks does players a disservice. Moreover, justifying deplorable actions or words by saying things like “boys will be boys” allows men like Donald Trump to vindicate their own asinine behavior.
Locker rooms don’t offer athletes free rein to say and do whatever they want. They’re places where men or women come closer together and unify as a team. In sports, locker room bonding isn’t based around sexism or violence. Rather, it is a product of shared experiences, shared triumphs and shared suffering. When male athletes laugh or joke about women and sex, they rarely do so with any sort of harmful or predatory notions in mind. I’m not sure that I can say the same for Donald Trump.
So perhaps if your only locker room experience is sitting in a country club with a homogenous group of rich, old, white men and swapping stories of your reprehensible behavior, then what Trump said might be nothing more than locker room talk. But for Kluwe, countless professional athletes and the rest of us, that concept doesn’t hold water.
Marc Cugnon is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .