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Women in locker rooms: a controversy only to those uninvolved

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Ines Sainz, sports reporter for TV Azteca, details what really happened in the Jets' locker room.

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If a locker room is a workplace, it's an inherently awkward one socially. Portis, for all of his silliness, did get at something real in his remarks, the central uneasiness of player-media relations in the locker room environment. In what other profession does one set of people do business with another while they're partially or wholly unclothed? He's right: It's unnatural. But that's not just about women.

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It's the job of the media to get inside a player's character and thoughts, to critique and document a team's progress and flaws, and to pass that knowledge on as accurately as possible to the public. It's vital to engage athletes in the locker room, where they experience their tempers and celebrations. It's an exposing situation - for everybody.

But that's true whether we're talking about women covering the NFL, or men covering the WNBA (yes, they go into female locker rooms), or men covering other men. It requires a high level of professionalism - from everyone.

Given the nature of the job, it's actually surprising there aren't more tensions between reporters and athletes. It's a testament to the professionalism on both sides that we get along as well as we do. The vast majority of men in locker rooms are extremely polite, and that includes Portis, whom I've never known to be anything but respectful. (To be honest, the worst sexists I ever met were a couple of editors in suits at Sports Illustrated, not half-clothed players.)

There have been just a handful of serious incidents of sexual harassment in locker rooms that I can think of in the past 25 years, the most notorious in 1990 when Zeke Mowatt of the New England Patriots hurled vulgarities at Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson after she had written some critical pieces.

Almost invariably, the debate about women in the locker room is carried on most fiercely by outsiders - from the fans who harassed Olson to the commentators who have opined on Sainz' wardrobe.

What all the outsiders ignore whenever the locker room controversy awakens, as it does every 10 years or so, is that male athletes and female reporters have thousands upon thousands of amiable professional dealings each week, without incident. They talk; they interview. They argue; they swap jokes, and trade insights. It's uncomfortable at times, sure. But it's not that big a deal. All it takes is a little courtesy, a little humor, and some terry cloth.


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