American athletes are wondering: what kind of locker rooms does Donald Trump hang around?
On Friday, Trump dismissed his lewd comments, which were captured off-camera before a 2005 Access Hollywood interview — among other things, Trump bragged about kissing women (“I don’t even wait”) and touching their genitals (“grab them by the p—y. You can do anything”) — as “locker room banter.” He videotaped an apology late Friday night, and expressed remorse for the comments at Sunday night’s debate. Still, during the debate, he repeatedly referred to his comments as “locker room” talk, in a effort to dilute their impact.
The message: when guys sit around after hitting the showers, you’ll hear this kind of chatter.
Many athletes condemned Trump’s caricature of the locker room. For example Robbie Rogers, a midfielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy, wrote on Twitter: “I’m offended as an athlete that @realDonaldTrump keeps using this “locker room talk” as an excuse.” Former NBA star Grant Hill wrote, “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms, and what Trump said is not locker room banter.” Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dahntay Jones wrote, “Claiming Trump’s comments are “locker room banter” is to suggest they are somehow acceptable. They aren’t.”
“We talk about a lot of stuff in the locker room,” Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum tells TIME. “We don’t discuss assault.” (During the debate, when pressed by moderator Anderson Cooper, Trump denied doing the offensive things he talked about on the video).
That’s not to say the locker room always sounds like choir practice. “Sure, guys sometimes talk about conquests and those types of things,” says former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels, a quarterback in the NFL for a dozen years. “But the guys who did that were usually thought of as the more immature players, the players who didn’t get much respect.” Plus, there’s a fine distinction between raunchiness and bragging that you grope women without their consent. “On one side is graphic talk,” says Brendon Ayanbadejo, who spent a decade in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. “The language might even be disgusting. But everyone’s having a good time talking about it. No one is talking about assaulting anyone. That’s criminal talk. Those are completely different places.”
By equating his comments with mere banter, Trump is playing on a stereotype. Dumb jocks just doing their thing. Towel-snapping, girl-chasing boys just being boys. This depiction bothers Rosenfels. “You wouldn’t believe how much guys talk about politics, movies, music, pop culture, religion,” he says. He remembers players asking him about Judaism — his father is Jewish. Ayanbadejo said he had productive chats with his teammates about marriage equality, an issue he cared deeply about. “Yeah, there’s locker room talk,” he says. “But guys aren’t always sitting there talking about all the times they’ve had oral sex, or doing this and that. There are so many more important things they are doing and talking about. Yeah, there’s a time and place where that stuff may come up. Momentarily. And then we’re onto the next conversation. The conversations just go and go.”
Trump’s words surprised Ayanbadejo. He never thought a presidential candidate would boast about forcing himself on women. Rosenfels, however, wasn’t as shocked, since he considers Trump a “gross” individual. “He apologized for his comments, but he really didn’t,” says Rosenfels. “He says that this talk is normal, and it’s not.”