Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs has jumped into this week's national debate about female reporters working in NFL locker rooms, telling Ch. 5 in Chicago that "I don't think women should be in the locker room" and reinforcing his thoughts with reporters Thursday.
"My statement is that the men's locker room is for men," Briggs said, according to ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson. "Just like the women's locker room is for women."
"It shouldn't be a big deal, period," Briggs added. "This is the same place where grown men are taking showers ... and right outside of all these places we're surrounded by media, as we're drying off. We're naked and trying to answer questions at the same time. It's our realm."
Going public with that sentiment probably wasn't the wisest decision Briggs has ever made, but I'm not going to totally dismiss his thoughts as Neanderthal ramblings. There is no excuse for sexual harassment in the workplace, locker room or otherwise. But being uncomfortable is both a two-way street and a subjective matter. We can tell Briggs that female reporters deserve equal access, but we can't tell him what should or shouldn't make him uncomfortable. Can we all agree that it's possible for a perfectly reasonable and enlightened athlete to prefer not getting dressed in front of female reporters?
So here's my solution, for whatever it's worth: Maybe the NFL should close locker rooms entirely and create an adjacent and more professional workspace for all credentialed media members to conduct interviews after practices and games.
I'm sure many in my profession would bemoan this change, but let's take a minute to think through why interviews occur in the locker room in the first place. Frankly, it's a vestige of a time when only a handful of reporters covered teams in the NFL and other leagues. The entrance of a few (male) beat reporters into the locker room was hardly an intrusion. It was convenient for players and offered a chance for casual conversations and information gathering.
The explosion of media interest has made access periods in NFL locker rooms anything but casual. On a weekly basis, I watch reporters literally trip over each other because there are so many squeezed into a confined space. After the NFC Championship Game last January, I was among a handful of people speaking with Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ben Leber. Another group of reporters rushed by behind us. One of them crashed into me, pushing me forward and into a chair in front of Leber's locker. The chair fell on one of Leber's bare feet. I can't publish what Leber said after that.
The fact is there are few opportunities for the kind of one-on-one opportunities that once made locker rooms the most desirable place to conduct interviews. That type of interaction typically occurs away from formal access periods, either via pre-arranged sit-downs or telephone conversations.
I honestly don't think we would miss much if the group interviews we normally get in the locker room are moved to a designated interview room, as long as teams were able to coerce enough players to cooperate. That's already the case for coaches and high-profile players, and I'm guessing other players would comply if the return was privacy in the locker room.
Then, if reporters who have relationships with players want to make other arrangements for private interviews, they can do so.
It goes without saying that female reporters should have access to locker rooms as long as they are open to the media. But why thrust discomfort on anyone if there is an equal alternative for all?