locker-room culture

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Forms of behaviour that are characteristic of sportsmen within the confines of the changing room or the locker room. This culture is associated with male-dominated humour and prejudice, sexist, racist, and homophobic so-called banter. Such male preserves treat the locker room as a form of off-limits territory, a backstage sphere in which views might be expressed and behaviours condoned that would never be accepted in more public spaces. Comparable backstage spheres are the club room or the private dinner. In April 1991 Boston Herald sportswriter Lisa Olson took legal action in Massachusetts (Suffolk County Superior Court) against the New England Patriots of the National Football League (NFL). She alleged that a locker-room incident involving three players in September 1990 violated her civil rights, and constituted sexual harassment. The legal suit stated that Olson had been ‘held up to public ridicule, scorn and derision’ because of ‘the disparaging and demeaning statements and actions’ of the players and team officials. Compensatory damages were sought for medical treatment following the incident, and for continued ‘emotional distress’. The NFL mounted an investigation and offending players were punished. Olson was, however, vilified and persecuted by Patriots' fans, and moved to Australia to work for several years, before moving back to the USA in 1997. What Olson herself called her experience of ‘mind-rape’ certainly altered the conditions in which women journalists could go about their business in the world of male sports, reducing the acceptability and incidence of ritual hazing, but any participant in or observer of male sporting cultures knows that the locker-room culture remains in large part a bastion of atavistic male prejudice.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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