When Christine Brennan, a reporter covering the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post, first appeared in the team's locker room after a game a few years ago, I'm the first to admit I was shocked and uncomfortable.
I was brought up with four sisters, and we respected each other's privacy. Part of that respect required proper attire in each other's presence. Now, here I was in a complete state of undress being expected to give an interview to a female reporter.
I offered to be interviewed later at a different location. Ms. Brennan responded graciously, and we spent time talking on my day off . . . as much time as she wanted to get a story.
Women sports reporters demand equal access to locker rooms along with male reporters. They all want to get in immediately after a game too. Yet there is little regard for professional players coming off the field after three hours of brutal physical and emotional exertion. The players want nothing more than to take off 30-plus pounds of perspiration-soaked gear, peel off yards of tape, and seek the comfort of the showers.
A few months ago I appeared on a national television show with a number of women sportswriters. One of them explained that immediate access was important in order to ask questions when the players are "vulnerable." The logic of this eludes me. The questions are often so obvious and the cliches so worn out with use.
"How did you feel as you fumbled the ball?"
Lousy! What else?
"What were you feeling as you crossed the goal line into the end zone?"
Great! How else?
To be honest, most questions aren't all that bad, but even so, you feel damned awkward standing there half-naked and exhausted discussing the game with a woman.
I want to emphasize that my own reluctance -- okay, refusal -- to talk to a woman reporter in such a state of undress is based on respect, not disdain or discrimination. I have a mother, a wife and a daughter. I would hope their sensibilities would be respected by any man who dealt with them.
When you think about it, you understand that gender should have nothing to do with the job. In sports and every other business, there ought to be equal opportunity, equal pay, and equal access.
But what I'd really like most to see instituted is no reporters conducting interviews until the players have had a least 20 minutes to shower and to dress.
I feel strongly that it would be beneficial for a team's spirit and morale if players could talk freely about the battle they have just fought without fear of being misquoted or taken out of context. The "vulnerability" wouldn't disappear in so short a time. The misery of a game-losing missed block or the elation of a game-winning touchdown would still be there. Besides, immediately after a game, in most locker rooms, there is much more perspiration than perspective.
A few days ago Jane Leavy, a former sportswriter for The Post and author of the novel "Squeeze Play," came up with her perfect solution. She suggested that "it only takes seconds to pull their pants on."
I respectfully submit that Jane hasn't played very much football lately. It takes a bit of doing to pull pants on over ice bags and ace bandages. Most football players, even if they're not hurting after a game, don't cool off all that quickly either.
About the alleged episode in the Patriots' locker room which apparently offended Lisa Olson of the Boston Herald: Her mother should have told her that if she stepped into a men's locker room, she would be entering a man's world. That doesn't condone the behavior she encountered, but I don't believe she should have been there in the first place.
And while I disagreed with Christine Brennan's timing of interviews after a game, I always asked her to tell me if she was subjected to any harassment from the guys. On one occasion I had to speak very frankly to a player to help him clean up his act while he was talking to her.
In the old days, everyone knew there were places a woman did not go and jobs she wouldn't consider applying for. That's no longer the case, but it's still going to take a while for some of us to get used to this new freedom. Fortunately for me, I don't have to face the locker room problem any more.
Dave Butz is a former defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins.