In 2005, 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump made several now-infamous comments about women on an Access Hollywood bus. These quotes, like “I moved on her like a b***h,” “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” and “Grab ’em by the p***y. You can do anything,” recently reverberated throughout the airwaves, collectively repulsing our nation. Subsequently, Trump issued an apology, labeling these comments as simply “locker room talk.”
In response, several current and former athletes, from Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe to Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, have come out in response, offering their takes on what real “locker room talk” is. Similarly, I wanted to give some friends and peers the opportunity to set the record straight. Thus, without political intent, I asked some student-athletes on Stanford sports teams for their perspectives on what real locker room talk is on their teams. Here are their responses.
“Our locker room talk is all over the place. We go from talking about the press we’re going to use to beat Cal to how much food we’re going to eat once practice is over. We goof around with each other and talk about plans for the week, or how late we’re going to stay up finishing homework. We’re serious when we have to be and and not when we don’t. Entering the space doesn’t change how we act among our peers or what we value as individuals. If anything, our locker room talk is more focused on our team goals and how we’re going to achieve them… But aside from game strategy and film, our locker room talk isn’t all that different from how we normally talk — except maybe we don’t sing as loud in public.” – Katie Keyser ’18, field hockey
“Men’s rowing locker room talk is how the guys on the team look out for one another. Our conversations aren’t self-indulgent but mutually supportive. Whether you’re laughing together or offering advice, it’s never about how it makes you feel, it’s about being there for your teammate.” – Will Spencer ’18, men’s rowing
“Nothing very interesting happens in our locker room — haha — usually it’s just us talking about classes and random stuff. To be fair though, our locker room isn’t its own room — it’s just lockers and the girls’ lockers are right next to it.” – Darren Mei ’18, men’s fencing
“I would say locker room talk for us was mostly just joking around about our weeks, talking about funny posts we saw on Instagram, crazy or embarrassing stories from the weekend or funny memories. Locker room talk was a light-hearted chatter about life in order for us to connect on things outside of the pool.” – Former women’s water polo athlete, NCAA national champion
“As an athlete, I’m offended that Donald Trump refers to what he said as ‘locker room talk.’ When we’re in the locker room, we talk about our matches, our team and other things about athletics. Trump simply disrespected women, and that cannot be compared to locker room talk in any shape or form.” – David Wilczynski ’18, men’s tennis
“With us, it usually involves us catching up on each other’s lives, like relationship drama or about the work we have for our classes or fun plans for the weekend. We also tend to complain about how sore we are.” – Adrienne Yang ’18, women’s fencing
“On the wrestling team, locker room talk is informal. We’re tired after practice, so generally comments are curt and without much thought behind them, for better or for worse. Depending on the day, there can be a lot of humorous trash talk; however, it is all in good fun, and generally everyone leaves with a smile.” – Men’s wrestling athlete ’18
When juxtaposed, these quotes speak for themselves. Conversations about classes, team strategy, embarrassing Instagram posts and being sore after a long day of practice is a far cry from language that’s inherently misogynistic, crass and depicts harassment and/or assault. Moreover, by comparing locker room talk to misogyny, Trump essentially ignores and trivializes the female 50 percent of athletes at Stanford and other colleges around the country.
Trump, in qualifying his comments as “locker room talk,” essentially excuses comments like this behind closed doors. Ultimately, his excuse here is akin to his other statements like “Muslims are terrorists” or “immigrants are rapists.” If we surveyed every Muslim, immigrant and locker room, we would be bound to eventually find a terrorist, rapist or misogynistic comment that verbalizes sexual assault; however, that doesn’t make his comment true or right.
Ultimately, we have to look at ourselves. Do we accept denying Muslim women and children entrance into our country simply because of our fear of a religion and people? Do we accept standing in silence as a reporter is mocked for his disability, or as a woman is mocked for her face or weight? And do we accept the most crass, inappropriate, harassing form of language as our definition of locker room talk? When we refuse to reject these comments, we become complicit to them and knowingly submit to them.
In responding to all of Trump’s comments, it is tempting to adopt an air of sanctimony. However, the truth is that the locker room talk Trump refers to, while not on his level, is still alive at Stanford and other schools around the country. As a former high school athlete, I can attest to hearing misogynistic, predatory comments throughout the locker room and in the showers. And unfortunately, these conversations continue in college men’s locker rooms. Even at Stanford, where we prize our intellect, morality and sense of responsibility and action and where we expect exceptional academic, social and athletic conduct from our student-athletes, many of my athlete friends were unwilling to answer the question, due to the fact that the locker room can turn vulgar and raunchy. In some settings, it’s a place where guys can be guys, and likely one of the last places where words aren’t repeated or recorded.
The question is: Where do we draw the line, where do we self-regulate? That is for each one of us to decide. However, I’d like to leave you with one sobering thought. When Trump is able to resort to the stereotype of “locker room talk” and allow his inexcusable language to be excused by many through this term, work still needs to be done.
Contact Kyle D’Souza at kvdsouza ‘at’ stanford.edu.