At halftime of the only Redskins game I saw from the stands last year, the players headed down the tunnel to the locker room while the sports media covering the game from the sidelines headed to a table full of sandwiches and sodas behind the team bench. The lunch was courtesy of Redskins management. It's just one of the ways that NFL team owners ingratiate themselves with the press covering their sport.
The ''sporting press'' ought to be disqualified from serious coverage of the NFLPA strike because of conflict of interest. Access to the locker room, to coaches, to team officials, to medical staff carrying injury reports and to pregame tapes of opposition teams is all carefully controlled by football management. This is the lifeblood of in-depth coverage of the Redskins, or any other team. And it all depends on a solid relationship between sportswriters and team officials.
If a team is lucky enough to get to the Super Bowl, the whole process is magnified. There is pressure from the hometown media for extensive reporting of the team. Once again, many elements of the process are controlled by management or the National Football League.
So, Post columns calling for the league to play ''hardball'' with the players and live television reports from the Redskins' picket line castigating the strike ought to be taken with a grain of salt.
However, the real question remains. Are the media, including The Post, prepared to cover the players' strike like any other labor-management dispute?
A local TV station this week had an exclusive interview with team owner Jack Kent Cooke. They didn't even ask him about the implications of bringing in strike breakers, usually a move of last resort in these types of conflicts.
Such issues as improvements in player pension funds and two-tiered wage system proposals from management were given short shrift by the sports press. Free agency, the rule rather than the exception in professional sports, has been treated as if it is sacrosanct. There was no press follow-up to management statements that this item is not negotiable -- an unfair labor practice in most labor disputes.
Nor is the federal antitrust exemption of the NFL a discussion point. After all, football is a regulated monopoly! Is it really good public policy to allow a monopoly complete freedom to set the rules concerning work-place location?
I'm as avid a Redskins fan as the next person. But sportswriters are usually out of their league covering the labor-management disputes of the NFL. When the lights go on and the air raid siren at RFK signals the start of a runback, that's when sportscasters and sportswriters are in their element. And not before.
The writer is director of public affairs for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.