‘An Open Mic on Life’

Flexing your Madden skills. Discussing racism. Sharing explicit details from last night. NFL locker rooms give rein to it all. But boasting about sexual assault? Current and former players aren't sure.

By Bleacher Report Staff

October 14, 2016

Bleacher Report

Does Donald Trump really know what locker room talk is?

You're no doubt aware of footage of the Republican presidential candidate bragging about kissing and groping women without their consent. “When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” Trump says before delivering a now infamously vulgar line: “Grab them by the p---y. You can do anything.”

In response to that inflammatory episode, and to several recollections from women who have claimed harassment since the video surfaced a week ago, Trump has on several occasions chalked up his comments as “locker room talk” or “locker room banter.” But is that really the case? 

B/R Mag spoke to those who spend more time in locker rooms than virtually anyone else. Our reporting team—comprised of Jason Cole, Tyler Dunne, Dan Pompei, Mike Freeman, Mike Tanier and Brad Gagnon—asked a select group of more than a dozen current and former NFL players what they really talk about in locker rooms, including what they say about women, and if Trump's comments would have any place there.

Their answers are a mix of distancing themselves from the candidate—and admitting that, well, Trump might not be as wrong as people want him to be.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


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Former Washington linebacker London Fletcher, in 2013. (Getty Images)

London Fletcher

Former linebacker in Washington, Buffalo and St. Louis

The locker room is a place where you talk about almost any and everything—plans for the evening, what they did the night before, family, kids. My last four, five years, guys were talking a lot about video games. They talk about other sports, the NBA. It’s a crude place, too. There is vulgar language and talk about sexual conquests. If you are a family guy, you have a group of guys you discuss family-oriented things with. There is a group that might talk about their religion.

“He should be in jail for what he was talking about doing.”

Somebody wasn’t talking about sexually assaulting someone. That’s what Trump was talking about, in my opinion. To label that as locker room talk was reckless. He is trying to get people to dismiss what he was talking about. He talked about Hillary Clinton being in jail. He should be in jail for what he was talking about doing.

Guys talk about hooking up with somebody the night before, but it was consensual stuff that took place. It happens especially with guys who go out together. I mean, let’s not be naive. But to say I grabbed someone in a private area and tried to kiss her? That wasn’t taking place. Guys aren’t trying to get sexual assault cases against them.

Zach Miller

Tight end for the Chicago Bears

We don’t talk about what Donald talks about. It’s day-to-day life. Nothing crazy in this locker room. We’re so dialed into football that any time we get a chance to talk about life outside of it, we do.

Rich Ohrnberger

Free agent and former offensive guard for the New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers

Let's put it this way: A locker room can be a lot of things. It can be a place where people share stories about very personal things. There are losses in life, injuries, marriages, kids taking first steps, successes, failures—it's all over the place. It can also take a dive into less appropriate conversations.

You get a bunch of teenagers and 20-year-olds around each other [in college], you'd be shocked at what comes out of people's mouths sometimes. But those are what comes out, and it's definitely not intended for public consumption.

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Eric Weddle of the Baltimore Ravens looks on against the Cleveland Browns on September 18, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty Images)

Eric Weddle

Safety for the Baltimore Ravens

What is said in the locker room stays in the locker room—not only personal stuff, but also game-planning, things about the league. You know the locker room is a very tight-knit setting. When a guy says something to me in the locker room about him personally, I don’t go home and tell my wife. It’s out of respect for my teammate. Luckily, my wife understands that.  

When the [Colin] Kaepernick stuff came out with the national anthem, we had good conversations both for and against. No one was attacking anyone. That’s the thing with a locker room: There are so many diverse backgrounds, ethnicities. But when you are with a team, you are a teammate. We respect everyone’s opinion and move forward.

In my experience, there isn’t conversation like Trump was talking about or conversation that looks down on women. It’s kind of odd that he would put that in context with us, or any locker room. If women are brought up, it’s more relationship-type stuff, or night-out-type stuff, but never in the way that it was brought up in that context.

“There isn’t conversation like Trump was talking about or conversation that looks down on women.”

For us here, with all the things that have gone on [with the Ravens], I’d be shocked if someone came in the locker room and said, “I was out last night and did this to a woman.” I’d be shocked. I’d be like, “You are a moron.” And it would probably be the last time I’d be around him. It’s hard for me to even think of an exchange like that, because it wouldn’t happen.

Jen Welter

Former assistant coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals and a former running back for Texas Revolution

I can honestly say in my entire time with the NFL, not one guy disrespected me. People underestimate the caliber of men who play in the National Football League. I hate to hear somebody who has supposedly put himself in the position of being a leader in our country to say something that could be so damaging to so many people. [Trump's] making an overarching statement generalizing what all athletes are. That’s what makes this such a damaging statement. That’s what is so dangerous about it.

These are great guys, incredible men who took pride in introducing me to their daughters and their moms. To write those guys off as “locker room banter”? No, no. You made a horrible statement against women. That has nothing to do with anybody else.

Ricky Jean-Francois

Defensive end for Washington

Before Donald Trump talks about what happens in a locker room, let me ask this: When did he ever take a snap other than Madden or a video game? Donald Trump doesn't know what he's talking about.

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Offensive lineman Tony Boselli of the Jacksonville Jaguars, in 2000. (Getty Images)

Tony Boselli

Former offensive lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars

I think the joking around and crass talk inside a locker room would be considered inappropriate, and most people wouldn't like what's said in a lot of locker rooms. You talk about a lot of issues and there's a lot of joking and remarks, particularly about women, that most people wouldn't like. That doesn't make it right, but to act like what Donald Trump said is so far out there from what's said in a locker room, that's ridiculous.

Guys say things. They joke around. They feel free in that environment to say what they think off the top of their head. We all joked around in the locker room and said a lot of things we're not necessarily proud of, me included. Again, if you recorded the conversation in a locker room, there would be a lot of things said where you might say, “That's a bad person.”

“To act like what Donald Trump said is so far out there from what's said in a locker room, that's ridiculous.”

It's an open mic environment on everything. Mostly it's jokes and it's not serious, but there are plenty of serious conversations. You're talking about 53 guys...a bunch of guys who are in their 20s and 30s and they're trying to figure it out. They're trying to get to know each other and joking around.

Does that make what Trump said OK? No, but it's not that shocking. Now, it's embarrassing. I have three teenage girls and we're watching the debate and I'm cringing for the first half hour. I told them to leave the room at one point because of what they were talking about, but my girls told me, “Dad, we already saw it on the internet.” I'm just shaking my head because I don't want them to see that during a presidential debate. But to act like I haven't been around that kind of talk in a locker room, now that's different.

Sam Acho

Linebacker for the Chicago Bears

What Donald Trump considers locker room talk, in my six years in the NFL, four years in college and the rest of my time playing sports, that’s not how we talk in locker rooms. We talk about politics, religion—pretty much anything. But there is a mutual level of respect.

Men talk about women. I’ve been married for two-plus years. If I hear a conversation going someplace I don’t like, I’ll step away from the conversation, or I’ll try to guide it back—let’s think about where you came from. Would you want your mom to hear that? If you’re married, your wife? Your daughter? I’m getting ready to have a daughter. I don’t want people talking about my daughter that way.

Joe Ehrmann

Former defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions and co-founder of InsideOut Initiative, an NFL-sponsored program to improve education within youth sports programs

There is no monolithic “locker room talk.” Now, there is that kind of banter, because a part of masculinity is defined by sexual conquest. To not only attract, but to take what you want. But there’s not enough empathy to understand the way this impacts women and young girls in this country. It’s a lack of moral clarity and courage. We need to call out other men on that kind of language.

“There’s not enough empathy to understand the way this impacts women and young girls in this country.”

When you do hear it, I think it’s your moral responsibility to speak out and shut that kind of thing down. To think that you can excuse this as “locker room talk,” as a part of our culture and a demonstration that explains some kind of manliness—that’s really pathetic. That’s really sad commentary.

There is no “boys will be boys.” Boys are socialized that way. They are taught that by our culture.

Tom Crabtree

Former tight end for the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There’s a distinction between talking about a girl, or a woman, who’s beautiful—and that kind of talk in a locker room—and talking about sexually assaulting a woman. It’s two different things. I think people are getting confused with, “Oh, every guy says that.” And, yeah, a lot of guys use crude language and guys cuss, and I guess you could say that’s “locker room talk.” That’s “me when I’m mowing the grass talk.” If I stub my toe, I’ll use a four-letter word or something. I don’t sit around with my buddies—and we certainly never sat around the locker room—and talked about grabbing women and kissing them when they didn’t want it. That’s sexual assault, and that’s not OK.

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Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, in 2011. (Getty Images)

Brendon Ayanbadejo

Former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins

When people go out or get together, whether that's some guys or a bunch of women, people sometimes talk graphically about what they do sexually. But I've never heard a guy talk about grabbing a woman by her genitalia. If I did hear that, I would say something to that person about how that's abusive behavior.

I've talked to guys who just got married to their college sweetheart and just had sex for the first time. At the other end of the spectrum, I've talked to guys who met up with somebody the night before and talked about all the things they did. I've had teammates who maybe did things like [what Trump said], like a Darren Sharper and what he did. But they didn't talk about it. They certainly didn't brag about it.

Sage Rosenfels

Former quarterback for the Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants

If I heard somebody saying those words that Donald Trump said, I would either confront them, or possibly walk upstairs and talk to the head coach, the general manager or the team security officer and tell them I feel we've got a sexual predator in our locker room.

“There is definitely a small amount of what I would call immature bragging about things guys have done with women...but nothing crossed the line of what's consensual.”

There definitely is a small amount of what I would call immature bragging about things guys have done with women, and I do believe that in female locker rooms there's some of that type of conversation too, from what the women in my life have told me. But nothing crossed the line of what's consensual. I also don't recall anyone ever talking or bragging about sexual conquests with a married person, even if it was consensual.

Willis McGahee

Former running back for the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns

That sounds more like CEO talk, out at the country club on the golf course, saying what they did or did not do. That doesn't go on in the locker room. Locker room is all fun and games.

We're all just kids, believe it or not. In the locker room we're a bunch of kids talking video games, playing cards, bragging about our college days.

We don't sit there and bash women. We don't talk about taking advantage of women and getting away with it because of who we are.

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