By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

My column last week tied together two gossipy occurrences in the sports world: 1) Karrine Steffans' tell-all book; and 2) TV reporter Carolyn Hughes' alleged affair with Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe. I was sarcastically making the point that women have proudly become equal partners in America's sexual irresponsibility.

It really wasn't intended as a column about locker room access for sports reporters. Yes, I said that it's foolish to send women into men's bathrooms. And yes, I also implied that it's stupid, primitive and intrusive for any reporter -- male or female -- to conduct interviews in the locker room with athletes who are showering and changing clothes.

A RESPONSE
Jason Whitlock asked the Miami Herald's Michelle Kaufman to respond to his column about media access to locker rooms. Here are her thoughts:

While I respect Jason Whitlock's opinion that open locker rooms are not the best place to do business (far from it), I would like to stress a few points as a 20-year veteran of sportswriting:

1. Deadline constraints, our desire to get spontaneous quotes after a game, and logisitical considerations are the reasons interview rooms do not work as well as quote-gathering immediately after a game. Why not do it the way the WNBA does it? Reporters come in for 15-20 minutes, the athletes do interviews fully clothed, and then reporters are asked to leave, doors are closed, and the athletes can shower and change in privacy and peace. Seems like a civil solution.

2. If Jason's point was that no reporters should be allowed in locker rooms, why did he bother bringing up the issue of the TV reporter having an affair with a ballplayer, and other gender-specific comments? Women in our business have fought very hard for many years to be taken seriously, and any suggestion that we are voyeurs is insulting and just plain inaccurate.

3. Just for the record, we do not -- and never have -- done interviews in the "bathroom" or the "shower." Those areas are off-limits to all reporters. Interviews are done in the locker room lounge/stall area, where athletes who choose to be dressed -- and most do -- have that freedom.

Thank you for listening.

Locker room interviews, in my opinion, are a dumb tradition.

Well …

Shortly after the column posted, angry objections from respected female sportswriters began to trickle into my e-mail box. None of the e-mails, though, dealt with my primary point -- that sexual moral bankruptcy is now an equal-opportunity account. No, I came under attack for expressing the opinion that women don't belong in men's locker rooms and that training camp can be a hazardous environment for a female reporter.

I stand by those opinions. I don't even view them as remotely controversial.

Going into the men's bathroom following a practice or a game, and conducting interviews while athletes undress and shower, is not a gender rights issue. It is not a sign of equality. It's a stupid, disrespectful, antiquated tradition started by men, and it really needs to stop -- especially now with the explosion of new media and the full-blown gender integration of sports reporting.

A woman's opportunity to get to do the same dumb stuff that men do is not equality.

You achieve equality when you share in the power and get to shape the rules and traditions so that they make sense for you.

Interviewing naked men in bathrooms is not a winning proposition for female sports reporters. The playing field isn't even close to level in that environment. This ridiculous tradition will always favor male reporters, who don't have to climb over a male athlete's initial belief that the reporter is only there for the view.

What many male reporters fail to realize is that locker room accusations of sneaking peeks, or gawking, eventually fly at both genders. I don't blame the athletes. A star player will step out of the shower, walk toward his locker and see his stall surrounded by 30 "reporters." We, the media, will open up a walkway for the athlete to get to his space, then crowd back around him and stand within 2 feet of him as he drops his towel and begins to dress.

It's uncomfortable and unnecessary for everyone involved.

I once saw former Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox sit on his stool wearing nothing but a towel, and a TV reporter squatted on a knee right between Cox's legs and did a three-minute interview. It was 1994. The Chiefs were playing the Dolphins on "Monday Night Football," and I'd gone down to Miami early to catch up with my old college buddy Bernie Parmalee.

Somehow, we manage to cover wars and presidential elections and murder trials without going into sweaty, filthy bathrooms for interviews. Movie critics don't demand chitchats with Denzel Washington and Halle Berry as they dry off from a shower after a long day of filming.

The intrusiveness of locker room interviews fuels some of the petty tension between athletes and the media. In some cases, we're no better than paparazzi. For every legit journalist in a locker room, there are two jersey-chasing fans (male or female) masquerading as reporters, holding microphones and tape recorders and asking stupid questions or just standing around, looking. Many alleged "legit" members of the press secure credentials for their friends or potential girlfriends.

Reporters can wax on and on about all their journalistic reasons to enter a locker room. It's bull. Many college teams don't open their locker rooms; and yet I've seen reporters build news-breaking rapport with college athletes and cover their beats just as thoroughly as pro beat writers do. A significant number of "journalists" love going into the locker room because it's something the average fan can't do. Makes 'em feel special, cool, important. An athlete might see them at a restaurant and say "hi."

Have professional athletes reluctantly accepted these locker room inconveniences and conducted themselves more appropriately over the last 15 years? Yes.

But that doesn't mean we can't push for a more professional environment to do interviews. That doesn't mean we can't end a stupid tradition that has outlived its usefulness.

I'd like to see professional athletes made available on the field or court immediately after practices and games. I want to talk with athletes before they've been told what to say by coaches and management. When weather or the number of reporters covering an event precludes on-field access, then a mandatory interview room would work just fine.

That's how I feel about locker room access. You already know how I feel about sexual immorality. The more … just kidding, I think.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. His newspaper is celebrating his 10 years as a columnist with the publishing of Jason's first book, "Love Him, Hate Him: 10 Years of Sports, Passion and Kansas City." It's a collection of Jason's most memorable, thought-provoking and funny columns over the past decade. You can purchase the book at TheKansasCityStore.com. Jason can be reached by e-mail at ballstate68@aol.com.


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