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Gym Class Can Teach Youth About Rejecting Sexism And Racism

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HIGH SCHOOL BOY LOCKER ROOM
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The past week has brought a number of important issues to the forefront -- and many revolve around athletics. So, can we talk about freedom of expression in gym class?

Firstly, we have that regrettable role model, Donald Trump, telling us that foul language, disrespect and threats to women's bodies is just "locker room talk." While I have not been in a locker room in a while, and all of my experience has been in women's locker rooms, I am quite confident that I have never heard anyone in a locker room talking with such glee about grabbing another person's genitals.

While there may, indeed, be women for whom such an act might be an attractive way to get revenge against a male attacker, most women I know find talking about acts of sexual violence to be demeaning and degrading to anyone involved. If, in fact, this kind of talk is happening in boys' and men's locker rooms, someone should be speaking up, and do so loudly and clearly.

donald trump
Presidential candidate Donald Trump dismissed his lewd remarks about women as 'locker room talk.'

Gym teachers who hear their students talking with approval of acts of sexual violence should consider themselves to be obliged by their profession to respond to the "teachable moment." If teams or individual athletes imagine that the people in authority, or even their fellow athletes, find this kind of talk amusing or acceptable, they need to be disabused of this notion immediately.

It is the job of the teacher or team leader to help young athletes understand that such talk is frightening to people they love, and disrespectful to themselves and to others. They need to learn about their role in fighting sexism and violence; they need to understand that each of us has responsibility to keep our society peaceful and safe. And, as always, teachers may be the first or only people to do this work.

What about freedom of expression? Shouldn't we be able to say whatever we think? Well, there is a big difference between a government or a court making or enforcing laws to ban speech and teachers helping students to understand that their speech has effects they may not have anticipated. We may be free to speak, but we are not free from the consequences of our expression.

It is the job of the teacher or team leader to help young athletes understand that such talk is frightening to people they love.

So, let's talk about the names and mascots of certain sports teams. Douglas Cardinal went to court to seek an injunction to prevent the media from using or showing the name and image of Cleveland's baseball team. Fortunately for freedom of expression, the court refused to grant this injunction.

The solution to a problem created by ugly expression is not censoring the expression. That does not work, and it is an unreasonable limit to our constitutional right to free expression. The only solution is using more expression and education to make the deeper changes that society needs.

Does the court's refusal to grant the injunction mean the name and mascot of the Cleveland team are acceptable? Certainly not. This is 2016.

cleveland indians logo
The Cleveland baseball team's racialized logo.

The time has come for us all to acknowledge that indigenous people are humans -- and are nobody's mascot. The team's offensive caricature of a mascot and the team's name are obscenities that degrade people.

And guess who can help young people understand what is wrong with this team's name? Gym teachers. If all physical education departments in every school, college and university took a close look at their teams' names with an eye to updating them for the 21st century, this discussion would spread to nearly every home in North America. Our athletes could ask themselves and one another what image and name they would like to represent their teams.

I doubt that the old and stereotyped name of a racialized group would be anyone's first choice. And if educational institutions take the lead, it won't be long before privately owned professional athletic organizations get the message. After all, today's gym teachers are teaching and training tomorrow's great athletes and team members. My hope is that the next generation will use their expression wisely because they will be a lot more aware of the diverse society in which we are all living.

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