CLEVELAND, Ohio – A grotesque way of treating women — characterized as “locker room talk” in the eyes of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump – has become a national discussion.
Now, many people are wondering what is actually being said within locker rooms walls, specifically in high schools.
“First of all it was appalling and everyone agrees to that, but that was only part of the story,” said Tyrone White, founder of WhoaMan, a group focused on combating violence against women. “The whole story is that there are a lot of men and boys in any given day that think the same way, but never mouth it and that’s what we really need to attack.”
Since Trump’s remarks became public, many across the country have echoed White’s sentiments by saying there needs to be more discussion about how men of all ages treat women.
Nationally, some lawmakers have been pushing to make it mandatory that schools speak to students about having safe relationships and about avoiding any form of violence. Coaches and athletes have also started to speak out about the harm that can come from overlooking bad behavior in locker rooms.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James joined the list of people pushing back against Trump’s controversial comments about groping women.
“It’s not what (Trump) said,” James said on Wednesday. “We don’t disrespect women in any shape or fashion in our locker room. That never comes up.”
James is just one of several athletes speaking out. Local sports figures Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer have joined White’s cause.
“Yes, we use Donald Trump as a lightning rod, but we should also use that as a vehicle to engage in a deep-tissue discussion with athletes about what’s appropriate and what’s not,” White said.
White is critical of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s actions concerning sexual assault. In Ohio, the Steubenville rape case caught national attention when two football players were found guilty of raping a then-16-year-old in 2012.
Two years later a pledge by Cleveland high school athletes reflected a renewed determination to stop violence and sexual assault on women.
Before Jerome Baker became a member of the Ohio State football team, he and future teammate Alex Stump led an anti-violence movement by rallying football players around the area. Baker said he was inspired to take on the project after a conversation with White. The issue arose after incidents of violence were reported on the high school, college and pro football levels. Graduates Justin Layne of Benedictine and Colin Costanzo of Holy Name led a second pledge against violence in 2015.
In the same year, U.S. senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act requiring that public secondary schools promote safe relationships, and recognize and prevent physical and emotional abuse. Kaine is now running for vice president with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
But while the McCaskill/Kaine proposal still sits in a Senate committee work is still ongoing, White said. White said he’s working with local high school student-athletes in engagement sessions and workshops.
“Whether it be athletes or entertainers, if we can get to those people they have influence,” White said. “When you look at LeBron James, he has 25 million followers on Twitter. So that’s where we need to start because if we can influence them and coaches that influence athletes, then we can potentially have a seismic shift in terms of what is acceptable and what isn’t.”
Fairview football coach Tom Narducci said he doesn’t agree with Trump’s description of “locker room talk.” Narducci, who has coached for 42 years, said his assistant coaches work to curb bad behavior in the locker room.
“I don’t think that’s locker room talk and as a coach you have to have constant supervision,” Narducci said. “Every week we have a coach assigned to locker room supervision. It’s like being in your classroom, you have to (supervise) and if anything inappropriate is being said you have to address it and correct, especially when a lot of people are around.”
Training for state coaches are set by the Ohio Department of Education, OHSAA spokesperson Tim Stried stated in an email. Some of the instruction includes first aid, CPR, concussion training and knowledge of OHSAA regulations.
“There are many additional important topics that we encourage our member schools to include in the training they provide for their own coaches, such as hazing, bullying and pain pill addiction,” Stried stated. “If a school identifies other topics to include in its training program, the OHSAA supports those initiatives and is available to assist, if needed.”
Instructing coaches on how to handle violence, bullying and similar issues is something president Matt Dennison of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association is not opposed to seeing in the future. However suggested that coaches who don’t work in any school system be given the opportunity to share in the same training as school teachers.
“All the teachers have that, so I would really like to see maybe an adoption of some kind for people not in the teaching profession have to get some extra training,” Dennison said. “[In terms of training] I don’t think it’s one of those things the state will touch because the schools handle it pretty well.”
Dennison is also the head football coach at New Philadelphia. Coach said he and his staff teach respect and set high standards to curb bad behavior in the locker room.
“It comes down to the culture you create,” Dennison said. “We don’t have a lot of issues in our locker room because of the culture we create. Our biggest mission to try and teach kids how to be good men, be man built for others and be a servant leader.”
The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is an organization that assists coaches, parents, administrators and student-athletes in such cases.
Executive Director Marty Mordarski of the Cleveland Chapter has delivered workshops throughout the region since starting as a PCA trainer in 2013. The Cleveland chapter is one of 16 locations in the nation.
“Learning how to act with integrity — doing something right even when others don’t — isn’t easy,” Mordarski said. “It can take a great deal of moral courage to step in, speak up, and stand up to one’s peers; and high school sports can present a multitude of challenging situations where a high degree of moral courage is required and expected.”
First year head coach John Hunek at Berea-Midpark said when it comes to respecting women, it’s critical for coaches to build role models in locker rooms.
“I think it’s up to a coaches to teach kids,” Hunek said. “Right now in the media and entertainment there is a lot of negative images telling boys it’s the right thing to objectify women and treat them without respect. So I think it’s important for teachers and coaches to fight those forces and help show young men the right thing is to treat women with a high level of respect.”
Mordarski pointed out several strategies for kids to stand up to behavior such as harassment, bullying, and hazing. He referenced the book Elevating Your Game: Becoming a Triple-Impact Competitor by PCA’s founder and CEO Jim Thompson.
“It’s important for student-athletes to understand that some behaviors, such as using demeaning and degrading language toward women or any other groups, are not acceptable,” Mordarski said. “If they can take that step, coaches will encourage and support their efforts to stop those behaviors from occurring.”