What gives athletes right to be rude?

John Steadman

October 01, 1990|By John Steadman

Locker rooms, where athletes put on and take off their uniforms, show off the worst in men. It has always been that way. The blueness of the atmosphere is remindful of a military barracks, or a penitentiary. Maybe worse. Coarse actions and vile language are condoned. It's no place for a prude or a Puritan.

The public, unfortunately, has the wrong concept and so do some reporters who insist on access to the players' dressing quarters. Too few stories have their origin in locker rooms. The most celebrated sportswriter of all, Grantland Rice, rarely visited because he knew enough about what he was watching that he didn't have to solicit views of the participants. And many of them couldn't correctly explain what happened, so why waste time going there?

Dressing room conduct among the athletes, and even toward each other, can be utterly repulsive. There was Sparky Lyle, once of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, boasting how he enjoyed putting his naked rear end on a cake that had been given the team and placed on a locker room table.

After women gained locker room admittance, Lyle had a cake basked to resemble a male body part and put a sign next to it that offered a double-entendre: "For Women Reporters Only."

It was a pitiful attempt at raunchy, low-class humor. Lyle and other athletes resented women having the right to enter the clubhouse. But under no circumstances should the women be harassed or demeaned, and they shouldn't accept such treatment. If women have been given press credentials, they deserve to be able to go any place a male reporter goes in quest of covering the story.

When Melody Simmons of The Evening Sun visited the Orioles' locker room last year, she was exposed to common gutter-talk. The players screamed, "wool . . . wool . . . wool" when she made an appearance. "I was so embarrassed," she reported, "I couldn't positively identify the players. It was after batting practice. When they were hollering, I just 'dug-in' and kept going to wait for Cal Ripken Jr., by his locker. Manager Frank Robinson's office door was open but he didn't stop them. We had a hearing later and he said he thought it was good-natured joking."

Suppose their own wives, mothers, sisters and daughters were subjected to this kind of dehumanizing treatment? With athletes, generally, too many believe because they can throw a ball or catch one and are held up in adulation that it provides a license to act as crude and rude as their thimble-sized brains will permit.

What happened to a woman reporter for the Boston Herald, one Lisa Olson, has brought the entire unseedy locker room scene into focus. Several New England Patriots made lewd gestures and comments and then the owner of the team, Victor Kiam, added remarks that were equally as painful.

Will McDonough of the Boston Globe and Patriot defensive back Raymond Clayborn got into a disagreement that wound up with the sportswriter, in an upset, giving the athlete a quick beating. The businesses of covering a team and playing for one don't have to be confrontational, but too often they are because the athletes believe all things said and written need to be complimentary. They obviously want fiction; not fact.

A female baseball writer from Baltimore, Susan Fornoff, at the time working in California, received a gift package delivered to the press box. She opened it and found a dead rat, compliments of Dave Kingman. Such debasement, as with Fornoff, Olson and Simmons, must end.

Imagine that these are the heroes naive men and women, strictly fans, want their children to grow up to emulate. Reporters should boycott locker rooms. Newspapers, in Boston and elsewhere, need only to stop using so much expensive newsprint, which is free advertising, on tramp athletes.

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