TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – She walks into the locker room where 30 guys just came off the ice and are preparing to shower. She stoops down to pick up a jersey without considering who might be behind her and what they might be thinking. Laura Thonus, the Alabama hockey program’s equipment manager, spends hours in the locker room sharpening skates, washing jerseys and making sure the hockey sticks are labeled and organized.
There are times that women working in or playing sports are seen as groupies or sex objects, and Thonus has not been immune to that stereotype.
“My guys don’t really [hit on me], if they are a close friend of mine I know that they are kidding.” Thonus said. “But I have encountered sexism with the other teams, so you can tell which teams have worked with a girl and which ones haven’t. I’ve had guys cat call me in the tunnel. Whenever that happens, I just tell their coach.”
With only one month left in the presidential election cycle, questionable language became something of a lightning rod for the eventual winner, Donald J. Trump in October 2016. Obscene “locker room talk” has dominated headlines across the nation since.
The Washington Post posted an article online that included audio from 2005 of Trump and Entertainment Tonight co-host Billy Bush, “having an extremely lewd conversation about women,” in which Trump described groping and kissing women without their consent. Some tried to excuse it as “locker-room talk.”
Yet the question remains: what differentiates locker-room talk from lewd or offensive language?
While Trump’s defenders have excused the President’s locker room talk, others publicly disagreed, and said they have no place anywhere in conversation, whether in a locker room or board room.
Alabama hockey head coach John Bierchen sees the locker room as his players outlet, a space where they can freely converse as a team.
“When it comes to the locker room, I think it becomes a space where, it is my philosophy, it’s the guys area,” Bierchen said.
Defenseman and Club President James Benedetto did not deny that inappropriate conversations do occur from time to time.
“I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms growing up playing hockey, he said. “ I don’t think it depends on just the locker room in general. I think it depends on the person. It’s hard because my group, we’re very focused on our task, but I can’t say that hasn’t come up in conversation. I just know that not every player will partake in that conversation.”
While it can be easy to assume locker rooms are filled with conversations similar to Trump’s. Athletes and coaches alike argue that often it is actually the opposite.
The perception of locker room talk is one of a coarse or sexual nature, but in reality normal locker room talk can resemble conversations with friends. Athletes are often comfortable enough with each other to speak freely. They talk about anything from sports to fame and even social issues inside of the locker room.
“We get a lot of freshman and they vent to us a little about what’s going on in school,” Benedetto said. “We basically talk like how you would talk with your friends, it’s kind of the same conversations going on.”