The case against Kinnick's pink locker room
In 1979, coach Hayden Fry had the visiting football team's locker room walls painted pink to get a rise out of his competitors. Many Hawkeye fans find this gag funny, while others see it as a juvenile playground taunt — one unbefitting of a higher education institution.
When Kinnick was renovated in 2005, the university doubled down by adding (at great expense) pink urinals, showers and lockers. University of Iowa law professor Erin Buzuvis publicly criticized this move, arguing, "What you're saying is, 'You are weak like a little girl. You are weak like an effeminate man.' " Hawkeye fans rallied in support of the pink locker room, Buzuvis received death threats, and she has since taken a job at another university.
So much for "Iowa Nice."
UI's chief diversity officer, Georgina Dodge, defended the pink locker room at a recent Community Summit on Sexual Assault. She said Fry was just a "psychology buff" who believed pink was a "calming color," and when pressed, Dodge strongly denied it was meant to push masculine buttons. Her comments echoed the Wikipedia entry on Kinnick: "Despite the periodic claims of various activists, it has nothing to do with gender or sexual preference. It's simple color psychology." It must be true if Wikipedia says so!
This is a standard talking point uttered by UI administrators, but it's a very disingenuous one. Fry explained in his memoir that he painted it pink because it "is often found in girls' bedrooms, and because of that some consider it a sissy color." Fry goes on to brag, "I can't recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beaten us." Given our team's mediocre performance of late, the Hawkeyes should paint their locker room pink; non-heteronormativity could be a winning strategy.
It is appalling that the chief diversity officer of a major research university would defend this practice in such a knee-jerk, uncritical manner. But when it comes to Big Ten football, tradition trumps all other concerns. This helps explain the school's horrific record of handling sexual assaults involving student athletes — and its clumsy handling of campus sexual assaults, more generally — since I arrived in 2000.
Homophobic and sexist slurs are deeply ingrained within locker room culture; the recent dustup over the Miami Dolphins' Richie Incognito is but one of many examples of this. In Fry's day, it was par for the course for coaches to motivate players by calling them "homo," "girl" and — in Fry's own words — "sissy."
But we no longer live in Fry's time. It's the year 2014, and I expect more from UI and its athletics director, Gary Barta.
If UI President Sally Mason is really serious about cultivating a campus environment that will eliminate sexual assaults, then she should end this retrograde football tradition. Every time she cheers on the Hawkeyes from her skybox above the pink locker room, Mason is rubber stamping a hyper-masculine culture that undermines her recent efforts.
What sort of message is my school sending the young men who come to play in Kinnick Stadium? I certainly don't want my son to aspire to the sort of chest-thumping, name-calling tactics that my employer apparently thinks is perfectly OK. And for those who still insists that it is "simple color psychology" — come on, please, let's have an honest conversation about this issue.
Does a pink locker room directly lead to violence against women and gay people? Of course not, but it does reinforce the narratives about what it means to be a "real" man that kids are exposed to from a very young age.
This creates a subtle and harmful ripple effect — especially when it's officially sanctioned by the university.
If UI does not change its course of action, my prankster/activist alter-ego will launch a Million* Robot March Against Pink Locker Rooms. This fall, RoboProfessor's robot army will descend on FRY fest to publicly shame the university.
*Robots may vary from one to 1 million.
Kembrew McLeod is a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa (and an occasional prankster). This commentary was originally published by the Iowa City Press-Citizen.