Reacting quickly to the current tide in sports coverage, journalism schools now offer these new, essential courses for aspiring sports reporters: Polygraph Analysis and Tracking Lisa Olson.
To bring you up to date on the polygraph toteboard, Zeke Mowatt has taken a lie detector test, Lisa Olson has offered to take a lie detector test, and Victor Kiam is expected to announce in a new full page ad that he liked the lie detector test so much he bought the company.
Because the total is changing daily, I can give you only a partial count on the Lisa Olson Entourage. As of this writing she's being followed day and night by 3,718 accredited journalists, including the entire staff of ABC's "PrimeTime Live." After a hectic weekend of TV appearances highlighted by her shift on the "Home Shopper's Network," Lisa left the country. For security reasons, we cannot reveal exactly where she is, but "Entertainment Tonight" has booked 15 poolside tables on the Mai-Tai deck of a Carnival cruise ship steaming toward Aruba.
Okay, let's be serious.
What happened to Lisa Olson in the New England locker room -- a succession of players parading by her, displaying their genitals and making lewd comments -- is gross and abhorrent. Fines aren't enough. The offending players should be fined and suspended. And they should be made to visit shelters for battered women, so they can see what it's like to be powerless.
Some people, particularly the noted civil libertarian Sam Wyche -- perhaps you recall his nickname, "Wicky Wacky" Wyche -- have tried to turn this into a privacy issue. Their position is: If you send women into a situation where men are undressed, you're asking for trouble. This position makes Lisa Olson the guilty party. She asked for it.
You have to actually ask for it to ask for it. If you walk into a gun shop and a clerk shoots you in the chest with a pistol, did you ask for it?
Wyche says his players don't want women in the locker room, and neither do his players' wives; a great touch, using the wives as amicae curiae. Better they should be concerned with who's seeing their husbands naked in private than in front of 150 people in a locker room. Yes, there have been a few women reporters who have had sexual relationships with athletes they covered. Athletes have had relationships with flight attendants too. Do the Bengals' wives want the team to fly on military aircraft?
There are athletes who are sincerely disturbed by the presence of women in the locker room. They don't believe women ought to be there when they are dressing. This is not unreasonable. If somebody comes to your office to speak with you, you wouldn't take off your clothes during the conversation.
When you first get in the business, you think how great it will be to get inside a pro locker room. This is the sacred place, the place where the secrets of being an athlete will become known to you. But you go inside and see behind the Wizard's curtain, and realize it's a wind machine and a projector. Disillusioned, staring at bodies puffed and purpled with bruises, you quickly ask yourself, "What am I doing here?"
It's an uncomfortable, dehumanizing feeling. You look at the naked bodies, of course you look -- men and women. But you feel like an intruder. You're supposed to explain why certain critical things happened, how a game was won or lost. The athletes know why, so you ask them. Though their answers often are hackneyed or self-serving, the job is to report, not presume.
But for all the unnaturalness of the setting, there's nothing quite like a locker room for texture. It's there, directly after a game, when reactions are still raw and unvarnished, that an athlete reveals himself. His nakedness is in a way a metaphor for his honesty, and in another way a symbol of his narcissism; you'd be surprised how many athletes revel being naked there, how many of them strut around in self-idealization of the ancient warrior god. This is where an athlete feels the most entitlement to behave however he wants. This is the shrine the public has built to him. In here, he is certain, he has impunity.
If this were simply a privacy issue, we could settle it in a flash. As every athlete comes into the locker room he is handed a pair of underpants. He carries them to the shower room -- the NFL gives players 15 minutes before the media is let in -- and when he is done, he puts on the underpants, one leg at a time.
This is not too much to ask in return for a salary that enables a player to earn more in one game than the rest of us earn in one year. Give the reporters a few minutes of your time, and wear a pair of underpants. Entitlement goes just so far, gentlemen.
The issue, no matter how Sam Wyche and Victor Kiam want to obfuscate it, is women's rights. Some athletes love being interviewed, they crave the attention. Others hide in the trainer's room, off limits to reporters. At various times in their careers every athlete has wished to bar all reporters from the locker room. (Long before women were inside, men reporters were being hung on hooks or drenched with buckets of ice water.) But they can't raise the privacy issue with men; all men have the same private parts.
Men invariably try to exercise power over women; this is a further example. If you want to close the locker room, close it to everybody. But if there are male reporters in there, Lisa Olson has the right to be in there too. Grow up.
Keep Olson out and you derail equality of opportunity. Newspapers and TV stations won't hire women if they can't get equal access to the story.
Keep Olson out and you discriminate. You break the law.
And the commissioners of all the major sports won't let that happen -- because they're all lawyers. They know women will take them to court and beat the pants off them.