Unlike the previous tenant of this space, the nonpareil Shirley Povich, I am not often mistaken for a woman. In 1959 Povich was included in Who's Who of American Women, thereby acquiring notoriety that caused his face, decorated with a huge cigar, to be photographed by Time magazine.
Povich loved it. When the Who's Who publisher apologized for the mistake, Povich replied that he didn't mind at all. "For years," he wrote, "I have been hearing this is no longer a man's world and I'm glad to be listed officially on the winning side."
Anyway, there I was two Saturday ago, outside the University of Maryland football locker room, and a guy guarding the door said to me, "Are you a woman?"
Not many women I would care to know are properly dressed in 15 1/2 - 32 shirts.And I seldom look twice at women with bristly mustaches. Thinking back to grade school even, I cannot remember writing a mash note to a girl named Dave.
So the guy's question threw me off.
We had been arguing the previous five minutes.It was his job, he said, to keep reporters out of the locker room until Coach Jerry Claiborne said it was all right. I pointed out that Clairborne had just walked by en route to a press conference, so it must be all right for us reporters to go in. We'd been waiting 25 minutes already and there are deadline and couldn't we go on?
"Not until Coach Claiborne says so," the guy said.
When the magic word came, I started up the stairs to the locker room.
"No women, no women," the guard said.
And he grabbed the shoulder of my 40-regular sports coat.
"Are you a woman?" he said.
Not to get too passionate about this, but for a second I wished I was a woman. I would have made the guy carry me out of the locker room.
Reporters grow old because of deadlines and here 10 of us had waited 25 minutes for this locker room guard to let us by. Believe this: If you have 90 minutes in which to gather information, figure out what it means, organize it, write a story and transmit it to your office - if you have to do that little miracle in 90 minutes, you damned well don't want to wait outside outside a locker room 25 minutes and then be stopped for a sex examination.
I would have made Jerry Claiborne carry me out.
Now, Jerry would have been steamed. A Bear Bryant disciple, a product of hard times and scuffling, Claiborne doesn't believe in women's sportswriters. But then, he doesn't believe it men's sportswriter, either. The only reason he lets men in his locker room is that he knows it sells tickets. But women in the locker room? Gee whiz, as Jerry might say, these kids of mine are youn'uns and no woman is going to watch them take a shower.
While it is possible that women sportswriters might sneak a peek, the simple act of putting on a bathrobe, as the young'un has done for years in the presence of mother and sister, would spoil the view of prying eyes.
Or embarrassed coaches simply might close the locker room to everyone and bring requested players to an interview room. (But the coaches should be ready for the enterprising reporter who requests audience with every man who played).
Sexual privacy, while important, is the lesser issue here. A reporter's access to the news is more important, and whatever privileges are granted to male reporters are due the female. She may not be blessed with a bristly mustache but she had a job to do, the same job a man does, and it smacks of macho snobbery to deny her an equal opportunity to do the work.
News stories of the recent court decision ordering the New York Yankees to open their locker room to all reporters, if any, whether they be size 15 1/2 - 32 or size 5 petite, have made a point of identifying the ruling judge as a woman.
Such identification brings up both the foolishness and important of the issue.
Obviously, reporters felt the judge's sex was important; otherwise they wouldn't have mentioned it. It's as if the reporters are saying. "Well, what do you expect from a woman judge?"
And there, in that foolishness, is also the importance. The law is a male-dominated field, and yet a woman made this interpretation of law. One assumes the judge to be bright and disciplined; only someone with those attributes is entrusted with the law. And here Jerry Claiborne is telling us that women reporters will ruin his young'uns. The coach worries needlessly. For 50 years, our gal Shirley prowled locker rooms and the republic still stands.