Northeastern University’s athletic director knew he had to do something. Donald Trump’s boorish comments about kissing, groping, and trying to have sex with women — remarks from 2005 that were first revealed in early October — had ignited a national conversation.
Peter Roby was appalled, especially after he heard Trump later defend his comments as just “locker room” talk.
The veteran athletic director marched into Northeastern locker rooms while the men’s hockey and basketball teams were practicing.
“I said, ‘I just want to say this is not something we teach or condone,’ ” Roby recalled Monday. “That comment [about locker room talk] was so inappropriate, and it contributes to why we have the issues we have.”
Athletic directors in Massachusetts and across the country are confronting anew the issue of sexism in the Trump era, as Amherst College on Sunday became the latest school to suspend the activities of a sports team following revelations of racist and sexist e-mails.
Weeks earlier, Harvard University made headlines after similar behavior by members of two of its men’s teams was disclosed.
Athletic directors say they need to take action, offering education and discussions with student athletes, and training for coaches, before more of these problems arise.
On Sunday, Amherst’s student-run magazine, The Indicator, reported on e-mails it obtained from the men’s cross country team between June 2013 and August 2015. The exchanges described certain women on campus and their alleged sexual history and supposed proclivities.
College administrators ordered an immediate suspension of all team activities, and launched an investigation by an independent legal counsel.
“The messages are appalling,” Biddy Martin, Amherst president, said in a statement posted on the college website. “They are not only vulgar, they are cruel and hateful. No attempt to rationalize them will change that.”
A college spokeswoman also noted that the school already offers many trainings, workshops, and conversations for the student body about preventing inappropriate and offensive sexual language and behavior.
Last month, Harvard abruptly canceled the season of the men’s soccer team after a university investigation found that a lewd online “scouting report” about female athletes created in 2012 had continued into the current fall semester. Earlier this month, Harvard placed the men’s cross-country team on athletic probation for creating annual spreadsheets, with crude statements about the women’s team.
Harvard’s director of athletics, Bob Scalise, recently sent a message to student athletes and coaches stating the school is “in the process of engaging an expert to assess the overall culture of our programs, and to help us identify and develop positive, shared values in all of our teams, which reflect those of Harvard College.”
Sexist and racist behavior and language have become hot topics among college athletic directors, said Bob Vecchione, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, a trade group with members from 1,700 schools.
“We are trying to get in front of [the problem],” Vecchione said.
The association has lined up training for athletic directors by a specialist who has been helping the US Air Force Academy educate cadets about sexism.
At Amherst, the e-mails from the school’s cross-country team dominated campus conversation Monday, with signs hung in buildings that read “WOMEN ARE NOT YOUR MEAT!”
Anqi Cao, a senior from China, said her friends — many of them people of color — are upset. One of the e-emails detailed in the Sunday article contained a crude reference to Asian women.
Cao hopes the e-mails provide an occasion for dialogue.
“There should be more general conversation encouraged, or intentionally set up, that mobilizes people from different parties to get together and talk,” she said.
Many students said they could not conceive of any way to prevent offensive statements such as those in the e-mails.
Others said Amherst must take a strong stand as the investigation moves forward.
“This is just an opportunity to show that Amherst doesn’t tolerate this,” said Harry McNeil, a first-year student from New York.
Roby, Northeastern’s athletic director, said coaches are talking to student athletes when they enter the school about sexist language, and its potential to objectify women and lead to violent behavior.
“You have to have your head in the sand,” Roby said, “to not know this is an issue that needs to be thought about and considered when you are working with college-age students.”