On Wednesday night I read a very, very, very early (and very, very, very explicit) excerpt from my book at the Brillobox as a part of their monthly Bridge Series. I wanted to get a workout and a sweat in before the reading (which started at 8:15 p.m.), so I went to LA Fitness at 6 to hoop for an hour or so. Both the LA Fitness I frequent and the Brillobox are in Pittsburgh’s East End. I live on the Northside, which meant I just wouldn’t have time to leave the gym and drive home and shower before the reading. Which meant I’d have to shower at LA Fitness—the first time I’d ever taken a shower in a public locker room.
“Wait,” I imagine some of you thinking. “Didn’t you play basketball in high school and college? How is this the first time you’ve showered in a locker room?”
This (the basketball thing) is true. And I did take showers in college. But that was in a private space with my teammates. A shower in a public space with dozens of strangers is an entirely different dynamic.
But before we dive into that, let’s talk a little bit about the difference between showering as a high school athlete in your team’s locker room and showering as a college athlete in your team’s locker room. (Also, I must note that this experience may be men’s-basketball-specific.)
No one showered in high school. You practiced or played in a game, you put your school clothes back on and then you went to Burger King. Showers happened at home, and I’m not sure if the showers in my school’s locker room even worked.
Now, this showering dynamic has one major caveat: race. None of the guys I knew who went to predominantly black high schools or high schools with an even distribution of black and white kids showered in their locker rooms. It was more of a mixed bag, however, with the kids from predominantly white high schools. You still didn’t have many locker room showerers, but you had some. Either way, if you happen to be out somewhere this winter and you happen to see a group of high school basketball players having a postgame meal at Applebee’s, please know that they all probably smell like horse stables sprayed with Axe.
This dynamic changed in college. Now, not only did you shower—you were commanded to. I remember an actual almost fight one of my teammates (“Rick”) got into with an assistant coach over showering. He didn’t get off the bench during the game, was pissed about it and got dressed after the game without showering. The coach ordered him to shower, saying that he wouldn’t be able to board the plane back to Buffalo, N.Y., without one. Rick (who I think was 22 at the time) replied, “I’m a grown-ass fucking man. I know how much I sweated tonight. You’re not gonna make me take a fucking shower.”
They had to be separated. Rick “won” and didn’t have to shower because the head coach heard the commotion and ordered us all to hurry up and get on the bus. And since Rick was a bit of an asshole, too, he wet a paper towel, wiped his face with it and said, “You happy now?” to the assistant, who turned beet red. It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. He got kicked off the team two months later.
Anyway, at LA Fitness Wednesday night, from the time I entered the locker room to the time I left after showering and getting dressed, roughly a half hour passed, and I’d say 75 different men entered (and left) the locker room at some point. Most didn’t shower, choosing instead to just change and leave or go to the bathroom. But of the ones who did shower, I was the only black guy.
Although this observation is obviously limited to that particular time and circumstance, it matches up to what I’ve observed over 20 years of experience in locker rooms at LA Fitness and Bally and the YMCA. White guys are just more likely to shower at the gym than black guys are.
(Also, the older and whiter the guy, the more likely he’s going to be walking around the locker room butt-ass naked, too. While most other men seem to try to get dressed as quickly as possible, these dudes will brush their teeth, trim their beards, text their stockbrokers and do Bikram yoga with their dicks out. I’d say that roughly 89 percent of the visible penises in public men’s locker rooms belong to white men over 50.)
Again, this is all anecdotal. There’s no science behind these observations. But an informal poll of like seven people (all black) that I took yesterday reinforced it! (The black women I asked shared that white women seem to shower at the gym more frequently than they do.)
Does anyone have any theories about why this might be? (I have my own, but they’re mostly terrible and I don’t want to print them.) Also, for those who work out frequently at gyms, do you shower there? Why or why not?