I’ve never been in an MLS locker room. I don’t really know what the day-to-day live is in a workplace like that. It is pretty clear that it is a singular workplace in the American landscape, set apart not only from other types of working environments, but even from any other domestic sports locker room in existence.
Sure, we all show up to our jobs and cooperate with our co-workers: do group projects, have meetings, solve problems. But an athlete goes to training, competing alongside their locker room compatriots for a starting spot, and even for a job, every day. An athletes job is inextricably linked with having a culture of camaraderie and cooperation. If you don’t trust the guy next to you to defend; if you don’t instinctively know where he wants that pass; your going to struggle as a team. And unlike other workplaces, everybody knows and everybody tells you when it isn’t working. Because your team loses.
While locker rooms can seem shrouded in mystery, we sometimes catch glimpses of the inside, thanks to social media. Instagramming your cool designer shoes is a thing. Dillon Serna seems singularly focused on his deep and abiding love for Chipotle. I’m guessing what music is played can be a big topic of contention. EA FIFA tournaments and ping pong battles are probably a big deal. From what I gather from folks like Calen Carr on the MLS podcast Extra Time Radio and Bobby Warshaw on Howler’s Dummy podcast, MLS locker rooms aren’t likely to be hotbeds of discussion of the latest suggestions from the New York Review of books. And they don’t seem to be particularly political.
But what makes every MLS locker room unique is how diverse it is. Take the Rapids locker room, for example. Last week’s starting XI represented athletes from Senegal, Albania, Ireland, France, Germany, Sweden, and the U.S. Add to that bench players from Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda. The manager was born in Argentina. By my count, the Rapids lineup speaks no fewer than seven languages.
So I have to wonder what the Rapids locker room was like this Wednesday morning, waking up to an America with Donald Trump as president. For the most part, the players don’t seem deeply partisan or politically motivated. The first thing we heard about the election was when Tim Howard admitted to Stephen Goff that he didn’t even vote. That said, the players have to be aware that Trump has struck a decidedly nativist and isolationist tone in much of his campaign rhetoric. He famously wants to deport undocumented immigrants and build a $30 billion wall along our southern border.
If you play for the Rapids, your manager’s parents are immigrants. There are strikers and midfielders and defenders that are immigrants, Granted, they’re all legally in the country with all the proper paper work, but that might not change the fact that it feels different today to be an immigrant that speaks English as a second language than it felt last Monday.
Obviously this is all speculation. Maybe this isn’t a big deal. Maybe these guys just want lower taxes and better air travel to away games. Maybe the locker room feels the same today as it did a week ago; focused more on battles for playing time and squabbles over the stereo. Or maybe it feels a little less comfortable, a little less united, a little less embracing of differences. Maybe it feels just like the rest of America.