Yes, Trump’s comments were "locker room talk" — and that’s an indictment, not a defense


On Friday, the Washington Post leaked the audio that will probably forever define Republican nominee Donald Trump's presidential campaign. By now, most people know it well: "Grab them by the pussy," says Trump. "You can do anything."

While these comments alone have stunned and angered even Trump's own supporters, many of whom have withdrawn their endorsements of the candidate, the way Trump excused his language produced another brand of outrage.

In an official statement on his website, Trump referred to the remarks as "locker room banter," an excuse he repeated during Sunday night's debate. Many high-profile male athletes — who argued they would know what constitutes "locker room banter" — seized on what they saw as a blatant misnomer. Within days, nearly every major media outlet was running stories with headlines such as "Talking About Real Life Locker Room Talk" and "What Exactly Is 'Locker Room Talk'? Let an Expert Explain."

All seemed to strike a similar note: What the hell kind of locker room was Trump hanging out in?

In an op-ed for Vox published Monday, former NFL punter Chris Kluwe blasted the candidate's defense: "Oh, sure, we had some dumb guys, and some guys I wouldn't want to hang out with on any sort of regular basis," Kluwe wrote. "But we never had anyone say anything as foul and demeaning as [Trump] did on that tape."

Jeff Chiu/AP

But these athletes' blanket denials are undermining their own good intentions. Men play a crucial role in tackling rape culture and sexual assault because they have the power to hold each other accountable for comments like Trump's. Fixating too narrowly on the space of a literal locker room — and taking firm stances on what does or doesn't happen there — isn't the most productive way to do that. Instead, it veers the conversation into dangerous #NotAllMen territory.

On Wednesday, Vox writer Matthew Yglesias tweeted out, "Got back to this gym this AM for the first time since the pussy-grabbing take. Nobody boasted about assaulting anyone in the locker room." Others, like writer Emily Savage, asked the "good men of the world" to "stand up now against this locker room talk defense and show it's not common and casual. It's predatory."

Given this apparently overwhelming evidence — that men don't speak like Trump in the locker room, that Trump's comments aren't "common and casual" — it's easy to dismiss the Republican nominee as an isolated case. And surely, it proves there are far more "good men" in the world than bad ones. 

But what about all of the evidence suggesting otherwise?

Take Kluwe's own locker room experience. In 2014, Kluwe himself was complicit in jokes about former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty of sexually abusing 10 boys. According to CBS Sports, Kluwe walked "around the locker room with a hole ripped out of his pants — in the back, near his rectum — and said he was a 'Penn State victim.'"

In his Vox story, Kluwe admitted to making the jokes and noted that, when the story broke, he took full responsibility for his actions and apologized. Kluwe told Mic he hadn't been making the joke at the expense of assault victims, which he noted was an "important contextual distinction."

 In any case, in 2014, he tweeted that "over half the team" did the same for more than a month. 

So if Kluwe, who has become famous for his progressive takes on things like same-sex marriage and the #GamerGate controversy, can engage in lewd locker room banter, it's probably more common than we think.

In the early '90s, Ohio State University professor Timothy Curry conducted a study on "fraternal bonding in the locker room." After gathering and analyzing fragments of conversations overheard in locker rooms by two athletes at a large, sports-centric college, Curry found "locker room talk generally treated women as objects, encouraged sexist attitudes toward women and, in its extreme, promoted rape culture." 

Anyone who might consider that to be too dated of an example, or who would insist times have changed, needs only examine the sexual assault epidemic plaguing college campuses. In 2015, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote an op-ed for Time stressing the need for universities to "stop protecting sexual predators."

Men play a crucial role in tackling rape culture and sexual assault because they have the power to hold each other accountable for comments like Trump's. 

"As a former college athlete, I'm especially aware of the culture of entitlement that some athletes feel as they strut around campus with the belief that they can do no wrong," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "This ridiculous notion certainly has contributed to the alarming statistics concerning athletes and rape."

A study published in the journal Violence Against Women back in May found more than half of the athletes included in a survey of 379 students under the age of 23 admitted to committing at least one "sexually coercive" act at some point in their lives.

Even if abhorrent comments like Trump's didn't happen in an actual locker room — which it would seem they do — it's clear rape culture has historically embedded itself in athletics.

Frank Franklin II/AP

Certainly, athletes are not the only perpetrators of sexual assault. They aren't the only ones who objectify women and they aren't the only ones who make light of rape. Kluwe agreed it would help to forget, for a moment, Trump's "locker room" and examine the broader issues.

"Yes, [rape culture] is visible in sports, and [the sports industry] needs to do a lot to fix its own particular problems, but locker rooms don't exist in a bubble," he said via Twitter DM. 

"Athletes are members of the society they live in, and reflect the social mores they were taught," Kluwe continued. "If we don't solve the problems of rape culture there ... then trying to fix only the locker room is addressing a symptom, not the disease."