This week has witnessed the appallingly obscene depths to which the Republican candidate for President of the United States can sink. Everyone from Michelle Obama–in the most powerful speech of the year–to former NFL player Chris Kluwe have expressed disbelief, shame, and fear about assertions of sexual predation being dismissed by the candidate as “locker room talk”. As so many people have stated, this grossly demeaning attitude is not only an abuse of women, but is an enormous slap in the face to men who play sports and spend time in locker rooms. My son Max, who has spent more than enough time in locker rooms, was disgusted enough to put up this note on Facebook:
I finally figured out my thoughts… Yes it is atrocious sentiments towards women, but it’s also demeaning to men and sporty men the most. We don’t talk like this… Ever. To imply we do and to equate it to playing sports degrades what is the purest outlet of physical expression and bonding we have. Locker room talk, in my experience, is more hopeful and joyous. All those endorphins make you talk about the future and the happy moments of the past. What you’re hopeful for and grateful for and why you’re happy to be hanging out with whoever you just squashed/ran/soccered with. Give me that back you shitty off brand pumpkin spiced dirt bag.
While these words made me proud of him for having grown into such an ethically decent human being, it also made me, as his mother, remember how important sports–or, as one says in Australia where Max did most of this athletic activity, sport–can be for young men. When we moved to Australia–where sport plays such a prominent role in public life and culture–Max was 7. The adjustment to this new place was difficult at first, not only because his first school was less tolerant of difference than it should have been, but also because he was just beginning to figure out what athletic competition was about, and which sports he would want to play. His first foray into cricket was a mistake–probably not the game to introduce an American-born child to before some other, less arcane, games were tried. In this, his father helped, by becoming a coach of t-ball, and then, baseball proper. At the same time, Max began playing soccer, eventually becoming a referee, while we all started watching the big sports of the culture, Rugby League, Rugby Union, and Australian Rules football.
Through sport, Max became part of Australian life, and at the same time, learned to discipline emotions, how to be part of a team, and to enjoy athletic activity. As fans, we all learned how to deal with disappointment with losses and with elation when our teams won. I can still remember how proud Max was when he came home from soccer referee training, with his little pouch of penalty cards. He held up the red card, and said “Just think, Mom, a billion people fear this card!” And I was immensely proud of him when he had to red-card a PARENT at an Under-12s girls’ game who was becoming abusive. Sport, as he has said himself, taught him respect and tolerance and using good judgement. It also provided camaraderie, esprit de corps, and all those joyful things. In many of these exciting moments, his teams were coed, the girls being as much a part of the team as the boys.
He did NOT learn to consider obscenities or the demeaning of women to be part and parcel of an athletic life. To this day, Max, who is now a husband and a father of a son, continues to love sports, both actively participating and watching competition as a fan. I’m sure that if his son is interested, Max will impart all of those positive aspects that sports can provide for a boy. It’s a hard time for young men today. Let’s hope that sports can continue to offer the same kind of outlet for growing into healthy adults that it has provided for generations of men and women. Thanks, Max, for reminding me of what you loved about locker room talk!