BOSTON -- Trouble came to a local football locker room and who is rounded up to investigate but a Harvard law professor. Perhaps his expertise is the law of the jungle, which appears to have been the prevailing ethic when Lisa Olson interviewed some New England Patriots football players. The Boston Herald sportswriter claims she was sexually harassed, saying the naked men gathered around and threatened her.
Boston's editorial writers, columnists and investigative reporters -- a huffing pack to begin with -- threw so many flags on the play that soon the national media swooped in. A $2,000 fine to a Patriots tight end was followed a few days later by a $30,000 hit on the Cincinnati Bengals coach who barred a female reporter from postgame interviews in the locker room.
I've been remiss in not reading every syllable of coverage on this crisis in the locker room -- as potentially as threatening to "our way of life" as the crisis in the Persian Gulf. But in the spillage of words to date, the one question I've been looking for has yet to be raised: Why does any sportswriter, male or female, want access to postgame locker rooms?
The game is the story, not what some hulks remember about the game. All a sportswriter need do is stay in the press box after the final whistle, bang out a few hundred colorful words on the big plays and satisfy news sticklers like me who want scores reported in the first paragraph and not in the fourth or fifth. That's where scores often are these days when junior Grantland Rices come on as prose stylists, not working-stiff reporters. After filing, let the sportswriter go home and reflect that there must be something greater in life than earning a buck posing questions to overpadded and overpaid brutes on how they just savaged each other.
It's television coverage, not the search for news, that pushes the print media into the locker room. To engage readers on Monday who were viewers on Sunday -- and know the score -- means upgrading a football game from a sports event to a cultural happening. Quarterbacks must be turned into performing artists, coaches into maestros, locker room banalities into literary profundities.
Should a fullback-intellectual tell reporters crowded around his locker, "That was a great win today but we're playing this season one game at a time," he can be sure that no awed reporter, male or female, would dare retort, "Did you ever play two games at a time?"
I conducted a postgame locker room interview once, once being enough to prove that two people's time was wasted, the athlete's and mine. It came after a minor-league baseball game in Florida in August 1982. Sid Fernandez, then a 19-year-old smokeballer who is now with the New York Mets, threw a no-hit perfect game for the Vero Beach Dodgers.
I asked Sid the Kid how it went out there on the mound. He replied, in the language of teenagers, that it was awesome. I jotted that down solemnly. I asked to what he owed his perfect game. "A lot of strikes." Why weren't the batters connecting? "They were swinging and missing."
I forget the remainder of my forgettable line of questioning, except that Sid and I willingly kept up the pretense that we were both serving the cause of truth and wisdom with this useless little rite of idiocy.
Female sportswriters who want access to locker rooms in the name of gender equality are akin to female soldiers who want equality on the battlefield. They deserve full fairness, for sure, but fighting for women's rights to be as dumb as men -- to hire out as military killers, to go into locker rooms to interview mental-midget football players -- isn't much of a cause. Feminism, a valuable and needed social movement, is trivialized.
Football itself is a sexist sport. The money spent by high schools and colleges to develop talent for the pros is an investment that benefits males, not females. The sexist economics of the sport are rarely examined, with even less attention given to sportswriters' complicity in the charade of locker room interviews. Clubs provide access for their own commercial self-interest -- to generate publicity about the athletes. Playing field action offers news; the locker room provides hype.
Whether males or females are working among the naked bodies, they're still more publicists than reporters.