Locker room no picnic spot for writers

MIKE LITTWIN

September 30, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

Let's go back to the scene of the crime: the New England Patriots locker room. Like all NFL locker rooms, it is where the players undress, shower, dress, gossip, play cards, stretch, read the paper, exchange head butts, meet with the coach, emit the occasional primal scream and also where they can be interviewed by sportswriters and their electronic-media brethren. The place smells of salve and sweat and laundry baskets overflowing with jockstraps. You get used to the atmosphere, but no one would ever confuse a locker room with, say, the Tulerie Gardens. In other words, don't bring a picnic lunch.

On a recent day, a day not unlike any other, Lisa Olson, who covers the Patriots for The Boston Herald, sat down for a locker-room interview with cornerback Maurice Hurst. This is how she does her job. She and the other media are welcome in this sanctuary, if not by all the players, then certainly by all the owners interested in seeing stories on their teams.

Publicity, we need not be reminded, is what sells tickets. And, of course, stories are what sell newspapers. It's a neat arrangement that biologists would call symbiotic.

On this particular day, during the interview, five of the Patriots emerged naked from the shower to approach Olson, taunting her with sexual insinuation and suggestions of lewd behavior. Tight end Zeke Mowatt has been named as one player who shook his genitals in Olson's face, asking her if she wanted to touch them.

Olson has called it mind rape. Team owner Victor Kiam -- you've seen him on the Remington commercials -- viewed it differently. Kiam, sitting comfortably on the razor's edge of insensitivity, said the Herald was "asking for trouble" by sending a woman reporter to the locker room and that players "can wiggle their waggles in front of her face as far as I'm concerned." All that he didn't say was that she should have relaxed and enjoyed it. Vic, how do you think those Lady Remingtons are selling now?

Meanwhile, the waggle-wiggling continues. Olson has reported that not exactly everyone has been supportive.

"I've had messages left on my machine," she told one newspaper, "telling me that I was asking for it, that I'm a whore, that I probably sleep with the players.

If the situation weren't so traumatic for Olson, it would almost be funny. What is at work here is a terrifying flight of adolescent male fantasy. Many man, including athletes, actually believe the women who become sportswriters make this career decision based on a desire to see athletes naked. It is my experience that you don't need to be a sportswriter to see athletes undressed, unless all the women hanging around hotels with ballplayers show up just for the free in-room movies.

Locker rooms are not sexy. Despite what you may have seen in "Bull Durham," the closest thing I've noticed to sex in a locker room is a proliferation of girlie magazines. More male fantasy. I've never known a woman sportswriter who didn't believe that entering a locker room was the most distasteful part of her job. To tell you the truth, most men sportswriters would say the exact same thing.

As far as I'm concerned, they could close the locker rooms to everyone. I've smelled enough dirty socks, just counting the ones I'm wearing. In my perfect world, you'd review a ballgame much as a critic reviews a movie or a play. But the present system isn't going to change, and women are now full-fledged members of that system.

Haven't we gotten past equal access? I think even Judge Souter is for it. Of course, some make the argument that men aren't allowed in women tennis players' dressing rooms. That's true. Neither are women sportswriters. All anyone can ask for is an level playing field and no waggle-wiggling.

Please understand, the locker room is not show and tell. I've never seen a woman sportswriter try to sneak a peek, and, in fact, most athletes cover themselves anyway.

Of course, there are exceptions. Back in the early '80s, four or five Los Angeles Dodgers players had a routine in place for whenever a woman entered the clubhouse. These players would parade naked. And they especially loved bending over for what is called a moon shot. This is when you could really use a Lady Remington.

Do you think women are lining up by the thousands to get up close and personal with some baseball player's naked rear end? Or how far does the male fantasy extend? Look next for a whipped cream dispenser in the clubhouse.

Kiam has certainly done his part to calm the situation. He called Olson "a classic bitch." Then, in a TV interview, he said he had seen Olson hanging around the shower room, presumably looking for -- at? -- a player.

"Now the story is that she got lost," Kiam said. "Well, I think most people know what a shower is."

And most know what the truth is, too. Later, Kiam, confronted with the truth, issued a statement that he didn't see Olson near the shower after all, and neither did anyone else. Reagan called that misspeaking.

Now, people are talking about boycotting Patriots games. The Boston chapter of the National Organization for Women is calling for a boycott of all Remington products, and Kiam will be sorry he bought any part of this business.

Even the slow-moving NFL will be forced to punish the guilty players. Too much bad publicity otherwise.

And what of Olson? She's back in the locker room. It's her job. Trust me, that's all it is.

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