Opinion

Addressing the responses to the football team’s #OurLockerRoomTalk

On October 29, the Macalester Football team released a video titled #OurLockerRoomTalk. As stated in the video, the goals of this project were: “to offer a look into what actually takes place in our own locker room, to share our commitment to stand up against sexual violence in our community, and ask teams around the country to join us.”

In the month since the video released, we have received many different responses. Some are laudatory:  “Well done. Well said. Thank you.” Some are critical:  “It just felt like complete denial to me, and I couldn’t take any statements that followed seriously.”

I appreciate every response, but I am particularly grateful for the people who shared frankly about how the video fell short of what they would have hoped. The fact that those conversations are happening now—as well as many others, both inside and outside our locker room—is one of the primary things we hoped to accomplish. The humility to be receptive to this feedback and engage in these conversations must inform the iterative process examining how we as a football team can better participate in efforts to advocate against all forms of sexual violence.

In the spirit of the video, which was to make visible the Macalester Football team’s active engagement in this important conversation, I want to share some of what I’ve learned in the past month.

(1) I do know where this is coming from. Like we stated in the video, “We know this kind of conversation has happened in our own locker room. In acknowledgment of this problem, we do not condone behavior or language that perpetuates rape culture. We have been determined and will continue to be committed to change the conversation and locker room culture.” I can see now that framing the opening skit of the video the way I did—” It’s definitely not reflective of any locker room talk that I have been a part of…. Me neither man, I don’t know where this is coming from”—did not frame that message well. As an athlete who has spent a considerable amount of time in a locker room and has been positively influenced by those who share the space with me, it can be difficult to look critically and recognize where aspects of this atmosphere are toxic. But this is exactly what we must do.  We have to own the degree to which we are still part of the problem while at the same time affirming our commitment to eliminating sexually aggressive behavior in our locker room.

(2) Talk is not enough. Making a public statement from behind the safety of a camera has little-to-no real impact in and of it itself. I acknowledge that. If this action is to have the positive outcome I believe it can, it will be because of the conversations that led up to it, the subsequent discussions that I and others in our program have had with community members, our own ongoing reflections and the potential outreach to additional communities through the strong social media push. We are late to the conversation. But we’re here now. We are seeking to improve our locker room culture.

(3) Many voices before us have spoken out against sexual violence. To celebrate the Macalester Football team for speaking out against sexual violence without acknowledging the many on this campus who have been advocating for this cause long before we chose to publicly engage with this issue is deeply problematic. To the extent that this has happened, it is a stark commentary on how different voices are heard on this campus and across the country. This is privilege. It feels uncomfortable. It is very real.

(4) Fear of saying the wrong thing must not prevent people from speaking out. One reason I felt so strongly about making this video is that I realized how many times I have failed to speak out on an issue, not because I don’t believe it’s important, but because I’m not sure I’ll get it all right. But I’m tired of being afraid of saying the wrong thing. When I see or hear something that is wrong, I am going to speak up. Even if I myself have been guilty of the very language or behavior I am seeking to eliminate.

(5) We must stand together to combat all forms of violence. Reflecting on a seemingly divided society, a friend of mine reminded me of the incredible power we have as individuals to impact the communities that we are a part of. I will not resign to give up in the face of leaders who do not reflect my values. I will not compromise my values when they are tested. I will work harder to stand up against all forms of sexual violence in my community. To those seeking to do the same in their community, take great care to do so in a respectful, informed and honest way. Be receptive to all feedback you receive and have the courage to acknowledge where/when you have made a mistake. More importantly, let this feedback inform your continued efforts to promote positive change in your community.

December 2, 2016

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