Last spring, a black assistant coach referred to members of his special teams unit as the “White Nation.” All sorts of banter goes on in an athletic locker room, the room being the social context for such comments. Many things can be said in the room, from well-intentioned racial badinage to sexist comments to any of a number of potentially embarrassing jokes. This isn’t to excuse any of that, only to point out that often things said within the room are just that, within the room, and can be especially dangerous outside of the room.

However, I’m intrigued by the idea of joking as acceptance, as a way of letting folks into the room, into their circle. There is a bit of a cultural element at work here, and, no, I’m not referring to growing up playing the dozens or anything like that. But rather, as a guy. Guys can be harsh with one another, riding each other, busting one another out of a sign of camaraderie and equality.

Now, I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by trying to pretend that the locker room mentality, the same brandishing of wit often displayed at a “guy’s night”, is the sort of intellectual sparring one might have seen among the ancient Greek philosophers. Often stupid and crass, at least in guy locker rooms, humor can be the leveler of the playing field, where no one gets a free pass. Humor and nicknames are dual-edged weapons: they can include people as well as be injurious to them.

Not everyone can take certain levels of joking, some folks being more sensitive than others. There can be a fine line between a bullying insult and the camaraderie of equals. What some might consider an insider’s joke others might consider mean-spirited. The difference is one of intent and intent is much easier to gauge when you not only understand the nature of the relationship but also are confident within it.

So being brought into the room comes with a certain amount of risk and may require the development of thicker skin and greater intestinal fortitude. However, by my estimation, there are worse things – like being left outside the room.

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