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Sexism in the locker room

We must stay vigilant to ensure outdated, offensive attitudes do not return to sport

by Andy Reed | Published in Sports Management Mar Apr 2017 issue 130
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
The locker room has been accused of fostering outdated, offensive attitudes
The locker room has been accused of fostering outdated, offensive attitudes

As a former MP, it’s hard not to follow the political news daily. What politicians are thinking and doing is important to the work we do at the Sports Think Tank.

As Donald Trump settles in as the new president of the United States, many of us are shocked and unsettled. His words and actions seem to be giving rise to attitudes we thought were buried in the past.

When the leaked tapes of a past conversation exposed his nonchalant approach to sexual assault, I assumed he was finished as a serious contender. Clearly, I was wrong. However, his ‘locker-room banter’ explanation was – I believe – a serious wakeup call for the sports industry.

Unsurprisingly, male athletes across America and the UK took offence, saying that this kind of sexist chat doesn’t happen in their locker rooms. I too joined in the chorus of condemnation. Even the normally outspoken John Amaechi defended the locker room from such accusations.

But can we just dismiss Trump and his locker room defence? Are we denying something that is a daily reality for many women in the sporting world?

Constant battle
I would like to think that none of this behaviour takes place in the 21st century locker room. I have spent the last 40 years of my life as a sports nut and I have never heard anything as bad. But I can’t claim that racism, sexism and homophobia have been eradicated from the world of sport any more than they have been from society.

I love sport and what it can do to change lives. I believe in its positive impact on individuals and communities. But in our enthusiasm, perhaps we are turning a blind eye to the dark side of sport – doping, cheating, bullying, racism and sexism. Trump’s comments made me realise that I have witnessed some of this bragging and lewd behaviour in the past. And not just in the locker room – but in the boardroom too.

I spend much of my time supporting organisations like Sporting Equals, Women in Sport and the English Federation of Disability Sport in challenging the norms in sport, so I know how much work there is still to do on these fronts.

I’m proud of the many sports stars that called Trump out on his comments. But let’s not think that the battles are won. Things are improving, but if we overclaim our progress we are in danger of stalling it.

It is up to us all to stand up and call out this kind of behaviour when we see or hear it. We need to be responsible and not get swept along with the norms. Each individual has a responsibility to stamp out sexism and misogyny in sports.

Andy Reed is a former MP for Loughborough and the founder of Sports Think Tank.
sportsthinktank.com

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