“Locker room talk.”
In the recent presidential debate a few nights ago, Republican nominee Donald Trump used this term five times to describe his past vocabulary. And not just any vocabulary, mind you. Vocabulary detailing actions being classified by many, including White House spokesman Josh Earnest, as “sexual assault.”
By now, it’s almost assumed that you’ve heard about the tape from 2005 in which Trump explains how, because of his fame, he is able to grope and get with women whether they give him consent or not — single or married.
“When you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump is heard telling Billy Bush. “You can do anything.”
Obviously, Trump has changed his tune since the tape’s release last Friday. Amidst a hailstorm of backlash, including a large number of representatives from his own party pulling their support, Trump went on the attack in the most recent debate on Sunday. And the term he continued to hide behind was the phrase “locker room talk.” One of the best examples of this was in response to Anderson Cooper’s question of whether Trump even understood that he had bragged about sexually assaulting women in his taped conversation.
In response, Trump said, “No, I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was — this was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.”
But this is locker room talk? As if this is a topic regularly breached in locker rooms across America? Or across the world, for that matter.
Now before I go any further, I just want to clarify one thing: This is not a political article. This is not an anti-Trump or pro-Hillary or anything in-between article. This is a human interest article supporting and protecting one of the groups being minimized in Trump’s rhetorical remarks. Of course, women should, and are, speaking out against the comments of Trump. However, I have very limited experience or knowledge, if any, with the topic of sexual assault and how it devastatingly affects women. I’ll leave that topic for others far more certified than I.
One thing I do know about, though, is locker rooms. As a lifelong athlete, I have been in basketball and soccer locker rooms ever since I can remember. So naturally, when I heard Trump’s continual use of “locker room talk” as a shield to hide behind as if that completely justified his inappropriate dialogue, it rubbed me the wrong way.
Certainly, the nature of a locker room is private and intimate. It’s a place where athletes strip down to their most vulnerable state to shower, change and either prepare for games or deal with the taxing outcomes of recent results. It’s supposed to be a safe place where these same athletes can lower their walls and shields in order to empty their minds before the heat of competition.
But is it also a place where remarks of this nature run rampant and are tossed around as frequently as a football on a field?
No. In fact, absolutely not. And just to be completely clear and set the record straight: Absolutely, definitely, positively, truly, undoubtedly not.
And I’m not just saying that from a limited perspective of sport or level of play. I’ve never been in an NBA locker room, but ex-point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers Kendall Marshall has and he tweeted, “PSA: sexual advances without consent is NOT locker room talk.”
I’ve never been in an MLS locker room, but outside midfielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy Robbie Rogers has and he tweeted, “I’m offended as an athlete that @realDonaldTrump keeps using this ‘locker room talk’ as an excuse.”
I’ve never been in an NFL locker room, but wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs Chris Conley has and he tweeted, “Just for reference. I work in a locker room (every day) … that is not locker room talk. Just so you know…”
I’ve never been in an MLB locker room, but pitcher for the Oakland Athletics Sean Doolittle has and he tweeted, “As an athlete, I’ve been in locker rooms my entire adult life and uh, that’s not locker room talk.”
The examples poured in from all corners of the Twittersphere from athletes in all walks of their sports lives to assure their female counterparts that male locker rooms are not places where a vulgar, rape-culture-promoting vocabulary is joked about and encouraged. Instead of places of encouragement and melting pots of different views, ideologies and backgrounds, especially in college, the rhetoric being put forth by Trump takes away every positive and enriching aspect of men’s locker rooms.
Trump’s explicit kind of talk has been absent in any locker room I’ve ever been a part of, Christian or otherwise. In the words of LeBron James, “That’s not locker room talk … that’s trash talk.” And you know what? Even Trump knows that.
Four score and too many years ago, “the Donald” was a three-sport athlete at the New York Military Academy playing baseball, football and soccer. I would bet my student loans that the conversation in those locker rooms, at a school as disciplined as a military academy, never once stumbled into the neighborhood of topics as terrible as sexual assault. Like a schoolyard bully, he’s dragging my personal protected space of sports — a safe haven for political junkies and clueless voters alike — into the political sphere. Into a conversation it has no place to be. And that’s frustrating.
Truly, the worst part about this whole mess is the fact that Trump actually believes he’ll be able to sidestep his mistaken and insensitive remarks by shoveling the blame onto a mythic culture he’s attempting to create. Harkening back to a scene from “Fight Club,” Trump is essentially constructing an imaginary opponent to fight so he won’t have to turn and face his real-life opponents: responsibility and apology.
So let’s set the record straight about locker rooms once and for all and take the attention off a place that has little to do with disrespecting women. Instead, it should be focused on the original spouting source of vulgarity himself. There are real issues and problems at hand with this election and its candidates. But locker room conversations? That should be the last thing on anyone’s mind.