DeAndre Levy is a linebacker for the Detroit Lions who has been a stellar player since entering the league in 2009. But it was after the 2015 NFL season, in April, when his name became widely known, after writing an essay for The Players’ Tribune called “Man Up.” The piece was written on the heels of an announcement that Levy would be raising money to test 11,000 rape kits that were found in a warehouse, abandoned by Wayne County prosecutors.
The dehumanization and objectification of women are not issues that are specific to male athletes. They are societal problems. But they tend to be more associated with athletes in part because we are often idolized because of our athletic ability. In many ways, we’re considered models of masculinity, which is at the very root of a lot of these issues…I want to use my platform as an NFL linebacker to discuss how we talk about rape and sexual assault—because not enough men are.
I spoke to him about football and sexual assault. This is edited transcript. To listen to the full audio from my podcast Edge of Sports where I interview Levy, please click the link at the bottom of the piece.
Dave Zirin: What was your reaction when you heard that Donald Trump explained joking about sexual assault as being just “locker-room talk”?
DeAndre Levy: I don’t buy that. I feel like when you dismiss it as “locker-room talk,” the next step is dismissing the actual act. I think it’s something that needs to be addressed, something that we don’t really think about because it’s all normalized. It’s an idea that a lot of athletes have: entitlement—as Trump said—that you can do whatever you want when you’re famous.
A lot of athletes stepped forward to say that Trump’s boasts about sexual assault is not language they have ever heard in a locker room, but I know you think that it is more complicated than that.
Absolutely. I think, no one says “grab them by the pussy” or “you can do whatever you want, when you’re famous,” but that doesn’t take away from the way women are spoken of and referenced, not even just in the locker room, but also in predominantly male circles.
You had this great line in your “Man Up” piece, where you wrote:
It’s important for men, especially in a hyper-masculine culture that breeds so many assholes, to stand up and challenge the values that have been passed down to us. This is not just a woman’s problem.
It’s a great example of not being a bystander to rape culture. How would you handle it if, hypothetically, you had a teammate who spoke in the locker room like Donald Trump?