It can all be very awkward

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This column appears in the Oct. 19 issue "Body Issue" of ESPN The Magazine.

So this is the body issue? Please.

I've spent more time around naked men than Jenna Jameson and the American Proctology Association combined.

Which is weird, because when I got into journalism I dreamed of winning Pulitzer Prizes, sending off breathless dispatches to a waiting nation and meeting scar-faced sources with Lugers in their trench coats.

I never thought I'd instead spend most of my time interviewing naked men with more hair than a Supercuts Dumpster. I once talked to then-Yankees slugger Jason Giambi as he mindlessly fondled
the one piece of clothing he most often wore in the clubhouse, his lucky gold-lamé thong. I once spun out of a kneeling position at a locker and turned straight into former Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen's butt. I once, riding along in a van, laptop open, interviewed golfer John Daly and happened to look up and
see him holding his, er, Big Bertha in his hand and cackling.

Sometimes it was worse than just naked. When I was 25, I was stood up for a coffee-shop interview with the legendary Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight. I finally managed to find Knight's room, knocked on the door and was met by him, half-asleep. "We were supposed to do an interview at 8?" I whispered.

Grumble, hiss, grumble.

Finally, the door opened. I was greeted by the great man's bare gluteus as he walked away to turn on the shower. "Make it fast," he growled.

After that too-revealing interview, it somehow got worse. Knight left the bathroom door open a sliver so he could still talk and take his morning grumpy. Apparently, I was about to do a Man on
the Seat interview.

It can all be very awkward.

During his unforgettable playoff run in 2004, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz hit yet another crucial home run to win yet another crucial game. Afterward, the hulking Ortiz came out of the shower and began wading through the 50 or so of us waiting for him, wearing only a towel and a scowl. Suddenly, he spun around on this tiny, middle-aged, balding radio guy, leaned over him menacingly and growled, "Did you just look at my nipples?!?"

Fear froze the little guy like a Popsicle. He squeaked, "No."

Ortiz suddenly broke into a huge grin, slapped the little man on the back and said, "Why not?"

One caveat: A nude jock is not a defenseless jock.

In 1985, I interviewed Pete Rose across a shower curtain in the Cincinnati Reds manager's office as he chased Ty Cobb's all-time hits record. I was asking him, as he lathered up, how much he had lost at the horse track that year.

There arrived a chilling pause in the steamy room. Then Rose suddenly yelled, "You can't crucify Pete Rose!" and threw his shampoo bottle at me. This is why the built-in shampoo wall dispensers of today are such wonderful inventions, in my humble opinion.

Of course, some guys refuse to be interviewed naked, such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan (who wouldn't even come to his locker until his tie was knotted) and running back Eddie George. "Maybe if I were endowed like some guys I've seen," George says now, "I'd come out stark naked, put my knee up on a table, face the crowd and go, 'Okay, who's first?' "

Other guys, though, would make excellent nudist camp directors. I'm still not sure I've ever seen Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon clothed while walking through a clubhouse. The man is naked more often than Michelangelo's David.

You just get numb to it. Athletes get dressed and undressed around one another all day, twice a day. They're used to constant nudity -- like nurses or masseuses or Rick Pitino.

And when they forget they're no longer in high school, we do our best to remind them.

One afternoon, Jenny Kellner, then of the New York Daily News, was covering the Jets. She entered the locker room only to find one of the team's stars buck naked. He walked up to her, pointed to his babymaker and said, "Hey, Jenny, do you know what this is?"

"Well," Kellner answered, with perfect aplomb, "it looks like a penis. Only smaller."

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