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Original Issue


How to protect athletes' privacy? Let 'em wear robes

There is nothing more unwittingly hilarious than a single-issue hysteric in full throat. The more shrill and overwrought troglodytes like Sam Wyche, Jack Morris and Victor Kiam become, the less serious attention they deserve. There is no reasoning with these people on the subject of allowing women reporters into locker rooms. It is the apparently sensible people who concern me.

Last week my esteemed if wrong-headed colleague Rick Telander wrote in this space that when women are in a locker room with nude men, "something is out of whack." The presence of these women, said Telander, is demeaning to the athlete and invades his privacy. Telander agreed that women reporters should have access equal to that of their male colleagues. But his solution is to close locker rooms entirely and set up interview rooms where athletes can meet with the press.

The attitude of athletes such as Morris, the Detroit Tigers' pitcher—who two months ago told a female reporter, "I don't talk to people when I'm naked, especially women, unless they're on top of me or I'm on top of them"—is the kind normally associated with crustaceans and other lower forms of life. By comparison, Telander's sentiments appear valid. And precisely because his views are thoughtfully expressed, they are more dangerous than Morris's.

Telander, a former college football player, revealed his bias when he said of his newspaper colleagues: "Their deadlines are not the players' problem." Having never worked for a daily, Telander cannot understand the pressure of a deadline 20 minutes after the end of a game. Nor does he appreciate that without locker room reportage, sport would be less vivid to the reader. The function of a reporter is to document not only a team's progress and ability but also its character and thoughts, and to pass that knowledge on as accurately and as artfully as possible. This is best accomplished by engaging athletes in their natural setting, the locker room. Interview rooms? Show me a sport in which the tempers and celebrations of its athletes are homogenized in this fashion, and I'll show you the J.C. Penney Golf Classic.

Moreover, as Telander points out, players are surrounded by all sorts of friends and hangers-on in the locker room, and nobody is ever going to get rid of them. The last time locker rooms provided privacy, Grantland Rice was writing and teams traveled on the Broadway Limited. Besides, who says athletes are entitled to privacy? They are public figures who earn enormous salaries, thanks in good part to the attention devoted to them by both print and broadcast journalists.

Telander's contention that players are entitled to have a place in which to collect their thoughts and emotions after that wrenching ordeal called a game is silly. For one thing, every locker room has one or more areas-showers, trainers' room, players' lounge—that are already off-limits to the press. As for unwinding: Sure, livelihoods and careers are at stake, but this is sport, not brain surgery. Players lose a game, not the patient.

And they don't have to be naked.

Towels don't cost much. I'll buy. In fact, I'll have them monogrammed.

Telander also said that men would never be allowed into women's locker rooms. That is inaccurate. At the NCAA women's Final Four, men reporters do enter the women's locker rooms. The dirty little secret there is bathrobes. Look at it this way, guys, they're comfortable. Attractive, even. If you like, think of them as dressing gowns. That has a certain cachet.

And yet the terry cloth solution is viewed in many quarters as impractical. More impractical than an interview room? More costly, time consuming or inconvenient?

Let me state for the record that I do not like going into locker rooms, and have never been in one unnecessarily. Also, in my 10 years as a journalist I have entered roughly 250 locker rooms without a single unpleasant experience. I attribute this to my own tact and the commendable behavior of most athletes. And not once have I or they swooned to the floor from either lust or embarrassment.

The right of women reporters to have the same access as their male colleagues is endorsed by every professional sports league. It is also the law, and has been since 1978, when Melissa Ludtke, then with SI, won the right to enter the New York Yankee clubhouse. U.S. District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled that to bar Ludtke violated her constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment.

Speaking of the law, if the New England Patriots' Zeke Mowatt did indeed perform the lewd act that Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson alleges he did (SI, Oct. 1), he should be arrested, as he would have been if the episode had occurred in a park or any other public place.

As for the puerile rantings of other athletes, coaches and owners: The next time one of them behaves so childishly, give him a truly fitting punishment.

Tell his mother.