The Swedes, of course, were laughing themselves silly. The very idea that a woman sports reporter could not enter the dressing rooms of professional sports teams. People here wonder why so much fuss was made over an issue seemingly so clear-cut.
Goteborg, Sweden, is not part of your early autumn tour of Europe, and English-language papers are hard to find. The International Herald-Tribune gets here one day late, so I settled for a Wall Street Journal, trying to find a few ball scores, like for instance, for the Yankees-Red Sox playoff game. Since the New York and American stock exchange don't oscillate with the latest results in organized sport, the only bit of news of a sporting nature in the Wall Street Journal was an editorial under the headline "Superfluous Legislation."
It referred to the timing of Judge Constance Motley's ruling that women sports reporters have legal access to locker rooms. Simultaneously, the U.S. Senate was arguing over extending the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
After all, it is now 1978. A woman sports reporter first entered our locker room in Goteborg about seven years ago. I remember it all too well. I was coming out of the shower after having lost a match and I was drying with a towel drooped over my face.
When I lowered the towel, there she was, with three of four other reporters. I was standing stark naked and she asked the second question -- something about where I played my best tennis. That at the time was a superfluous question, also. During the first question, I instinctively recalled reading what parents should do if their young children catch them in the raw. "Act natural," Dr. Spock wrote. He explained that a wrong reaction could permanently damage the child's sexual growth assuming that meant mental and emotional growth, I acted as natural as possible.
Blushing does not manifest itself so readily on my face, anyway, so she could not tell if the water on my face was a cold, nervous sweat or the lingering effects of a hot shower. But since this was a routine interview for her, she had probably been in hundreds of locker rooms.
This recent New York locker-room story broke while I was playing a tournament in San Francisco. A San Francisco paper ran a picture of a female reporter talking to a barechested Reggie Jackson. She was a TV reporter at that. She was also black and had a smile on her face, which I surmised to be pure photographic coincidence.
Her name is Carol Jenkins and she was a regular on NBC news. Since I know her, I can say that she is professional, objective (after all, she is not a sports reporter) and would not be put upon by Reggie's unadorned torso. But with even more certainty, I can say that Reggie's bare chest was not a coincidence. While Carol was smiling, Jackson was laughing. Unfortunately, the Carol and Reggie duet is not to be. This was New York City. People will try anything in New York City.
But how will it work in the locker room at Ole Miss after a football game, or at Alabama or even Nebraska where more staid mores still prevail? And how will the various public relations types handle accredited female reporters? Where does the freedom of the press and a team owner's prerogative to admit whomever he pleases to his locker room conflict? Of course, that might be difficult if "his" locker room happens to be in a public stadium paid for by a bond issue.
The lady judge has served notice to Bowie Kuhn that his owners must admit women to what surely has been coveted male reserves. Maybe the various state legislatures will codify for women what the civil rights legislation of the 60s did for the nation's minorities. Of course, if the commissioner doesn't comply, I am sure Our Lady On The Bench can come up with some very imaginative affirmative action programs.