ESPN: Steelers’ locker room talk ‘benign,’ unlike Trump’s

PHOTO: William and Mary/Creative Commons

PHOTO: William and Mary/Creative Commons

(Paul Chesser, Liberty Headlines) For ESPN, apparently not all vulgar “locker room talk” is created equal — it depends on whose “talk” it is.

And when it’s not just talk, but action — like alleged rape — sometimes ESPN wants you to pay no attention at all.

Both social and traditional media exploded after the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin delivered an expletive-filled post-game pep talk, ahead of their AFC Championship Game next weekend against the New England Patriots. Tomlin’s remarks were captured and aired online by wide receiver Antonio Brown on Facebook’s live broadcasting feature.

According to ESPN and other reports, Tomlin said the Steelers “spotted these a–holes a day and a half” of preparation, referring to how the Patriots will have additional time before next Sunday’s contest because they played earlier in the weekend, on Saturday night. He also told his players “we’re going to touch down at 4 o’clock in the f—ing morning” because of the late conclusion of the Kansas City game.

“We’ll be ready for (the Patriots’) a–. But you ain’t got to tell them we’re coming,” Tomlin said. “Keep a low profile, and let’s get ready to ball like this up again here in a few days and be right back at it. That’s our story.”

Here’s how ESPN characterized the Tomlin incident:

Tomlin’s comments about the Patriots were considered benign (emphasis added). [Steelers guard Ramon] Foster said the moment was “a bunch of guys having fun, having locker room talk and enjoying themselves,” adding Tomlin’s message was only “for us.”

ESPN added that the video “gave a rare glimpse into an authentic postgame locker room scene.”

But the declining (but still the largest) sports network was not so dismissive during the 2016 presidential election. ESPN went to great pains to discredit now President-elect Donald Trump — whose remarks that were demeaning to women were revealed in a 2005 video with former celebrity interviewer Billy Bush — when he downplayed the 11-year-old comments as “locker room talk.” Trump apologized.

In its October 11, 2016 article on the topic, ESPN pursued comments across the sports world about what constitutes real “locker room talk.” The consensus presented in the report was that Trump’s controversial words “raised the ire of plenty of athletes,” with “the overwhelming majority saying that what goes on even in private doesn’t match up to what the Republican presidential nominee said…”

According to ESPN, a Miami Heat practice produced one example of observed “locker room talk:”

Udonis Haslem was leading some banter with Heat teammates after practice Monday, the jokes and laughter helping everyone wind down after practice.

That’s how he defines locker room talk….

“I don’t know what locker room he’s been in,” Haslem said. “No, I didn’t appreciate it, to be completely honest. That’s not our locker room talk.”

Banter. Jokes. Relaxing. That’s real NBA locker room talk, if we are to believe ESPN. Oh, sure, there’s a little profanity:

[Los Angeles] Clippers coach Doc Rivers said such talk [like Trump’s] is not typical of any locker room he has been a part of.

“They’re bad comments. They’re demeaning to women,” Rivers said. “You know, I think when people throw out that word, ‘locker room talk,’ there’s nobody talking like that in the locker room. Is there swearing in the locker room? Yeah. Every other word. But there’s nobody demeaning — there’s players in our locker room with sisters, wives and daughters. There’s not that type of talk in anyone’s locker room.”

Meanwhile there are examples in ESPN’s past in which it has declined to report serious, alleged criminal actions of the athletes and teams they cover — with the Steelers, for one. In 2009 a hostess at a Lake Tahoe Harrah’s accused star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of raping her in his hotel room. When her lawsuit against the casino was first filed, ESPN’s top editors and producers issued a “do not report” directive about the incident, as Pro Football Talk reported at the time:

The directive came without explanation. “Even some of the reporters are wondering why,” the source said, “but haven’t been told.”…

Roethlisberger has hired attorney David Cornwell, who has denied the allegations in a statement initially sent to us, and then sent to other media outlets. And we’ve seen, and reported on, the contents of the complaint.

So in the absence of a legitimate reason from ESPN, we assume that there’s some other agenda at play here.

So cussing and demeaning your opponents (“a-holes”) — you know, real, live human beings — is acceptable “locker room talk” to ESPN. Just make sure the targets aren’t women or their body parts. And reporting the actual alleged act of rape against a star NFL player is apparently acceptable too in some circumstances.

But there’s no need for ESPN to do another 1,200-plus-word expose’ on what really goes on behind the scenes in professional sports locker rooms. Nothing to see here.

At least not until the next presidential election.