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Friday, November 04, 2016
 
Locker room talk

One disappointing thing about the outcome of the Donald Trump/Billy Bush recording is that the Trump/GOP excuse of "it was locker room talk" stuck. I spent a lot of time in locker rooms, including for high-level college basketball, in the '80s and '90s (a considerably less-enlightened time), but never heard anything remotely like that. There certainly was discussion, often graphic and crude, of women and sex and the attractiveness of various women. I never heard anything close to someone bragging about doing anything without consent or getting away with doing anything without consent.

All of which is a precursor for saying I am troubled by Harvard's decision to cancel the remainder of its men's soccer season (with the team leading the Ivy League and in line for an NCAA bid) over the team-created "scouting reports" of members of the women's soccer team. According to reports, 1) the original document that surfaced was from 2012 (talking about that year's freshmen, who have since graduated and spoken out about what the players did and said), 2) the current players said they were not doing this anymore and that the first one was an isolated incident, but 3) it turned out this is an ongoing team tradition, including by the current team. So it is not clear whether the decision to suspend the team is because of the report or because they were not forthcoming with the administration (although that might not matter).

Here is the thing: This is what "locker room talk" sounds like. Which is not to defend what they did. It is obnoxious and crude and disrespectful. And (although 21-year-old me probably would not have recognized this in 1989) it contributes to a culture and attitude of inequality between men and women. But such speech is not unlawful and does not (as far as the excerpts I have read) describe doing (or even wanting to do anything) unlawful. It also was not created for wide public consumption, although it was easily publicly discoverable and made available. In other words, the scouting report is, without question, constitutionally protected speech, not the kind of thing that would (or at least should) get regular students in trouble.* And in the absence of wrongdoing beyond general obnoxiousness and the utterance of misogynist ideas, canceling the season seems an extraordinary measure.
[*] Insert usual disclaimer about Harvard being a private institution not bound by the First Amendment and about Harvard possibly having greater latitude over speech by its employees/representatives.
Harvard's response triggers unfortunate comparisons to Duke lacrosse. Duke canceled the 2006 lacrosse season three weeks after the infamous party, although eleven days before any players were charged. Many people believe to this day that Duke was correct in that move. But given that it is beyond dispute that no sexual assault occurred, those who defend the suspension must believe that it was propr was based on nothing more than obnoxious, but entirely lawful, behavior by the players: Hiring an exotic dancer, shouting racial slurs in a verbal altercation (although this was disputed), and one player sending a violently misogynistic story around to his teams via email. In other words, no different than what Harvard has done here.





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